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Published: Friday, 5/16/2003

City defends plans for sewer rate hikes

Proposed sewer rate increases in Toledo would go help pay for millions of dollars in improvements required by a federal environmental lawsuit, representatives of Toledo's Department of Public Utilities said yesterday.

City Council's utilities committee held a hearing yesterday on the department's plans to raise water and sewer rates this year. If approved, the cost of utilities would increase more than $100 a year for the average residential user by 2006.

The department believes it has public support for sewer increases based on a survey done in February, said Robert Williams, the project manager in charge of the Toledo Waterways Initiative.

The city administration wants to raise sewer rates by 9.75 percent a year for four years. By 2006, the average customer's bill will have risen from $188.76 a year to $273.88 - an increase of $85.12 a year.

The sewer rate increase would generate an additional $14.5 million over the next four years.

The administration also wants to raise water rates by 4 percent a year for four years. The average customer who currently pays $126.80 a year would pay $148.36 a year by 2006, an increase of $21.56.

The water rate increases would generate an additional $6.5 million over the next four years.

Robert Stevenson, the city's director of public utilities, said most of the water rate increases are targeted to pay for a new 96-inch water line being installed from East Toledo to South Toledo.

The city signed an out-of-court settlement last year that commits it to spend more than $400 million over 15 years to eliminate sewer discharges into the Maumee and Ottawa rivers and Swan Creek.

Mr. Williams said the city has 31 projects scheduled. The largest one, estimated at between $25 million and $35 million, would treat excess combined runoff and sanitary sewer flows during wet weather at the Bayview wastewater treatment plant.

During dry periods, Bayview treats up to 75 million gallons a day before pouring it into the Maumee River. In extreme wet weather, the flow jumps to more than 400 million gallons, overwhelming the plant.

Mr. Stevenson said none of the sewer rate increases are going for operational or personnel expenses - even though his presentation to council yesterday projects a 7.1 percent increase in the department this year. He said some of the spending in the budget will not take place, and that the actual increase will be between 2 percent and 3 percent.

Mr. Williams said a survey in February of 600 homeowners - 100 from each council district - showed that 66.6 percent would have supported sewer increases of up to 12 percent a year.

He said the survey also showed that 61.7 percent agreed that reducing sewer overflows into the rivers should be the first priority of the sewer program, compared with 30.8 percent favoring reducing sewage backups into basements, and 7.5 percent favoring reduced street flooding.

He said the survey showed that 60 percent preferred continued quarterly billing, rather than monthly billing.

Councilman Betty Shultz suggested the department offer monthly billing anyway. “Sticker shock will have an effect,” Ms. Shultz said. “That 60 percent may not have really realized the difference they'll be seeing as the months go on.”

Council is expected to vote on the increases May 27.

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