Sewage rates may go up in Superior
Superior residents could be looking at significantly higher sewage rates when the City Council takes up this issue at its meeting Tuesday. Councilors could decide to raise rates by 8.75 percent annually for the next five years starting in January...
Superior residents could be looking at significantly higher sewage rates when the City Council takes up this issue at its meeting Tuesday.
Councilors could decide to raise rates by 8.75 percent annually for the next five years starting in January. That's the increase proposed to build up capital reserves to pay for nearly $25 million in improvements needed to meet more stringent environmental standards.
At 8.75 percent, ratepayers would see fixed monthly costs of $3.04, up from $2 now, and a unit charge of $7.54 in 2015, up from today's $4.96.
For a family that uses 8 cubic feet of water per month, that's a change from $41.68 per month today to $63.36 in 2015.
Superior Mayor Dave Ross said those kinds of increases -- about three times the rate of inflation -- prompted him and other city officials to seek legal counsel in an effort to reduce those costs by slowing the timetable for compliance with environmental regulations.
"These are incredibly large increases," Ross said. "As we see new inflation numbers come out, they could be quadruple the rate of inflation and can be quite intolerable for a community."
Ross said federal and state mandates that come without funding are driving local costs beyond the ability of communities to pay.
"The problem is they're setting very tight time limits for compliance, which requires unusually heavier or high investments into our wastewater treatment plant," Ross said. "We're not talking thousands of dollars in investment. We're talking about tens of millions of dollars trying to meet these water standards."
Among the projects the city will have to pay for in the next few years are projects designed to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows, which are illegal in Wisconsin, but still occur in spite of tens of millions of dollars in investment since the early 1990s, when the city was placed under a sewer moratorium, which limited the city's growth. New sewer hookups were not allowed until the city addressed the worst of its problems.
It's an issue that still could add to the cost down the road if the city doesn't meet its obligations under environmental laws.
"If we don't meet those mandates, we end up in court," Ross said.
That is one of the issues driving costs in the city of Duluth, which shares a port with Superior on the cleanest of the Great Lakes.
While Superior's sewage rates would be higher than nine comparable communities in Wisconsin, some inland from the Great Lakes, the proposed increases still would have Superior residents paying less than Duluth, which is under a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to resolve its sanitary sewer overflows into Lake Superior.
Ross said he was convinced by Madison-area environmental attorney Paul Kent "that the city would be making a huge mistake to drag its feet on this issue of compliance because ... we would pay a much higher price in the end."