Greenwood residents and business owners: By this summer you will know if your sewer bills are changing.
The city has hired a consultant to study the income from the monthly sewer bills and the utility’s current and expected expenses. The goal is to determine whether the bills are too high, too low or accurate. The city typically conducts a similar study about every three years, controller Adam Stone said.
The typical household pays about $30 per month for sewer service, Stone said. A monthly trash pick-up fee is tacked on to the same bill.
About 25,000 households or businesses use the city’s sewer utility. Consultants will study how much those residents are paying in sewer fees and how much the city plans to spend on improvements and repairs to the sewer system, as well as its regular operations. That will show whether the city is charging the right amount to pay for those projects, Stone said.
The city has hired Crowe Horwath for about $38,000 to complete the study that will recommend rates for 2017 through 2020.
City officials also want to determine if the fee charged to new businesses when they initially connect to the sewer utility is the right amount. In recent years, the fee has cost businesses anywhere between $1,000 and $100,000. City officials have said they want to look at lowering that fee because, in the past, businesses may have paid for more wastewater than they were actually using.
And they want to be able to create a calculation on the city’s website that would allow a new business to get an estimate of how much their fee will be, instead of waiting two weeks for the city to calculate it.
“We are trying to reevaluate our sewer availability fee rate philosophy. We want to do what other cities have done and make sure we are only charging what we need to charge,” Stone said. “This study will also make it less complicated and more straight forward. Businesses are all about getting things done quickly. They’ll be able to calculate their rate online in a matter of minutes.”
Once the study is complete by July, the city will decide whether sewer rates should change.
Between 1998 and 2010 the city didn’t increase its rates. Since 2012, sewer rates have increased annually. After a similar study was completed in 2013, the base rates continued an annual increase through last year.
During the next 10 years, the city plans to spend more than $30 million on projects to upgrade and repair the sewer system, including the Pearl Street sewer line replacement that was completed last summer, the ongoing Pleasant Creek rehabilitation at Market Plaza and replacement of sections of the western regional sewer line system. Officials need to be sure that the amount coming in through fees will pay for those future costs and loans that the city used to fund projects.
“We want to make sure we are charging what we need to cover operating expenses for the next three years,” Stone said. “With the study, it’s a two-part deal where we estimate what the usage will be, the cost of projects and what we will need to charge based on that information.”