Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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City sewer bills to reflect spike

Sewage project costs filter into annual homeowner increases

Toledo homeowners can expect to pay roughly $13 a quarter more during each of the next six years to finance the final third of the city’s $521 million sewage project known as the Toledo Waterways Initiative, according to a rate plan city council members will begin discussing on Monday.

For most senior citizens and disabled residents who qualify for the state’s homestead exemption, the impact will be a little more than $5 a year through 2020.

The massive project, which began in 2003 after 11 years of litigation, is required by court order to resolve federal Clean Water Act violations against the city for decades of filthy sewage spills into the Maumee River, Ottawa River, Swan Creek, and other metro area tributaries that flow into western Lake Erie.

Toledo is one of many cities in the Great Lakes region required to do a better job of capturing and treating waste people flush down their toilets.

“We’re winding it up. It’s something we have to do,” said Robert Reinbolt, Mayor D. Michael Collins’ chief of staff.

The city will be in default of the court order if the rate plan isn’t approved, exposing it to the risk of higher rates, said Don Moline, the city’s public utilities commissioner.

Reducing the amount of raw, human waste that fouls tributaries is the cornerstone of litigation brought years ago by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when it took the city to court over the violations.

City voters agreed in 2002 — by a vote of 15,550 to 4,209 — to move forward with the plan, which calls for unprecedented improvements to the city’s Bay View Wastewater Treatment Plant on Summit Street and an overall expansion of the city’s sewage network.

The project will eliminate overflows in all but rare and major storm events. For decades, untreated waste spilled into the tributaries after nearly every rain.

The rate increases are nothing new: They have been phased in since construction began, often at higher rates.

In an hour-long presentation to Blade editorial and news members Thursday, Mr. Reinbolt, Mr. Moline, and Edward A. Moore, public utilities director, said consumers will benefit from near-historic low interest rates on loans. Sewage rates would have been higher if interest rates for borrowing were as high as they were years ago, they said.

They agreed it won’t be cheap, though: The new rate plan calls for 7.1 percent annual increases through 2019 and a 7.9 percent increase in 2020.

By 2020, average homeowners in the city — defined as those who produce 3,000 cubic feet of sewage per quarter, a volume typical for a family of four — will pay $228.14 every three months for sewage, up from the current rate of $150.05. That $78.09 increase breaks down to an average of $13.02 a year for each of the next six years.

Those who qualify for the homestead exemption would pay $89.74, on average, for sewage per quarter in 2020, up from the current rate of $59.02 every three months. That’s an average of $5.12 more a year over six years.

The proposal comes a year after the city enacted higher rates for water for long-overdue improvements to its Collins Park water-treatment plant in East Toledo.

City council members will discuss the proposed sewage rates at a committee meeting at 4 p.m. Monday, followed by an agenda-review meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

The timetable laid out by the utilities department calls for the rate plan to get its first reading before the full council on Aug. 12, with a second reading and final vote expected Aug. 26.

Officials said they need the rate plan finalized and approved by then to meet deadlines for loan applications this fall that will keep one of the biggest phases of the project — construction of an $88.2 million Ottawa River retention basin near Joe E. Brown Park — on schedule.

Contractors have been lined up to begin work in November.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.

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