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Industrial users reach agreement on wastewater rates

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During its May 31 meeting, Springfield City Council approved wastewater rate increases designed to fund $50 million in system improvements and raise the operating balance of the city’s sewer fund to $20 million from $8 million. The 8-1 vote came after city officials reached an agreement to spread out hikes for the city’s largest industrial customers.

Beginning in July, residential and commercial customers will be charged the same base rate of $12.43 per month and volume charge of $1.22 per cubic foot. Rates for residential users, who currently pay $15.46 per month on average, will climb to $28.07 per month by fiscal 2017, and a commercial clients’ average monthly bill of $97.06 can expect to rise to $176.09 per month by fiscal 2017.

Additionally, rates for 17 industrial customers will decrease by 3 cents per pound for the treatment of biochemical oxygen demand, a common pollutant that can kill fish, starting Jan. 1, before climbing steadily after fiscal 2014. Biochemical oxygen demand charges of roughly 18 cents per pound will increase to about 22 cents per pound starting Jan. 1. The original proposal would have jumped rates to roughly 25 cents per pound July 1. Now, rates will climb to 46 center per pound, instead of 36 cents per pound, by fiscal 2017.

At the May 16 council meeting, Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co. Vice President Sally Hargis said the hikes in the original proposal would increase its wastewater rates by 36 percent in the first year.  The new rates are estimated to only increase its monthly bill by 26 percent.

The company currently pays roughly $6,000 per month for wastewater services, she said.

Hargis said the rates vary greatly depending on the volumes involved, but she felt the amendment would help make the increases more digestible. “The rates they were talking about would have had a severe impact on our business,” Hargis said. “The impact will now be less severe.”

City Manager Greg Burris said city staff members met with industrial company representatives before the May 31 meeting, and he believed the amended proposal was a good compromise for those facing the high-strength surcharge.

“Nobody wants to pay more, but what we did was try to make the increases more palatable,” Burris said.

In addition to the base rate increases, wastewater rates for roughly 800 food-service customers will increase in July at an average of $16 per month for food, oil and grease treatments. Those charges have historically been spread out among all nonresidential customers. Also, rates for 71 industrial customers will increase by $434 per month in fiscal 2012 to cover the cost of pretreatment and survey services. Commercial customers that don’t face pretreatment or pollutant charges should see their monthly bills decrease by an average of $4.42 per month in the first year.

Both of those changes were recommended by the 25-member wastewater task force charged last summer with finding ways to fund the system improvements and to restore the sewer fund balance to a healthy level. The members met monthly September–April.

Councilman Doug Burlison cast the lone vote against the increases, saying an unfunded federal mandate to meet Clean Water Act requirements effectively doubled the city’s water rates. “This is an unjust situation that has been handed to us,” Burlison said. “I just can’t support it.”

The Clean Water Act, which prohibits sanitary system overflows, is enforced by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency. System upgrades designed to prevent such overflows will be funded by bonds, and the debt service on those bonds would be paid by the rate increases council approved.  

Fiscal 2012 budget
Following four rounds of city budget sessions, little was said during a first reading of the $297 million fiscal 2012 budget proposal. The proposed budget is 4.8 percent higher than the $283 million fiscal 2011 budget, and the 2012 general fund is up 4.9 percent compared to $70.3 million in 2011.

No members of the public spoke on the budget, which must be approved by the end of June. Council is expected to vote on the proposal June 13.

Finance Director Mary Mannix Decker said next year’s budget proposal is based on revenues coming into the city during the current fiscal year.

“This is a conservative estimate that we think we can meet. Sales tax revenues are projected to be up 1.7 percent next year, which is slightly less than year-to-date collections in 2011,” Decker said.

The budget, which is posted at www.springfieldmo.gov, plans for $900,000 in merit pay increases, and it sets aside $327,000 for $1,000 increases for employees at the last step of their pay grades.

According to the budget summary, 78 positions remain vacant in the city. Burris said at the May 2 meeting that some of those would be filled, while others would never be filled.
At a cost of $50,000, the proposal also would reinstate the city’s wellness program that was eliminated in fiscal 2010.

Burris said the city is working on a long-range plan to budget for routine capital improvements, such as purchasing new Police and Fire department vehicles.

The general fund comprises 24 percent of the city’s proposed budget, while special revenue, which includes Springfield’s art museum and convention and visitors bureau, comprises 33 percent; enterprise funds, 22 percent; debt service, 7 percent; grants, 6 percent; capital projects, 5 percent; and internal service, 3 percent.[[In-content Ad]]

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