Greenwood residents will pay more for sewer service over the next four years if the city approves a proposal to hike the monthly rates by almost 50 percent to fund nearly $80 million in projects.
Greenwood has increased how much residents and property owners connected to the sewer system pay for service every year except one in the past six years. The latest proposal would increase the sewer bill each year from 2017 to 2020.
If the increase is approved, in 2020 your bill will be nearly three times as much as it was in 2010. The average residential sewer bill was $15.50 a month in 2010, $30 a month now and would be $45 a month in 2020.
City officials said the rate increase would help fund $78.3 million in projects to expand and repair the sewer system and construct a new public works building.
The centerpiece of the project is a $62.2 million, 10-mile set of pipelines to be primarily built west of Greenwood in White River Township. The western regional interceptor pipeline is intended to initially funnel as much as 9 million gallons a day away from overloaded pipelines in older Greenwood neighborhoods, but it will have a capacity as high as 25 million gallons. This will alleviate strain on the current system and allow for future development in the area, officials said.
“It is a long-term solution for the utility,” former city controller Adam Stone said.
The proposal also calls for $7.5 million for a new public works department building. The building would house the sanitation, parks and recreation, street and storm water departments, along with the city’s fleet of vehicles. The city doesn’t have the storage space to keep all of its equipment inside, which makes it harder to keep it in good condition, the city’s capital projects manager Kevin Steinmetz said.
In addition, the city wants to do $3 million for sewer relining, $1.7 million for extensions and replacements and $1.2 million for equipment replacements. The pipes the city is fixing or replacing in some areas are more than a century old, Stone said.
The expansion will also allow the city to add additional subdivisions and commercial development, which is expected along State Road 135 and the proposed Interstate 69 route along State Road 37. Right now, the city’s sewer system is at capacity, city officials said.
City officials had also previously discussed $7 million sewer improvements in the area near where they created a new tax-increment financing, or TIF, district in 2015 to set aside money for infrastructure and economic development projects along State Road 135. But the TIF district hasn’t brought in any money yet, and it would be unlikely for any future funds from it to be put toward the project, Steinmetz said.
Before any sewer rate increase could go into effect, it has to be approved twice by the city council. Two open houses and a public hearing are planned to gather input from the community.
Some city officials said the projects are necessary to comply with state demands to reduce sewage overflows and be prepared for future development, and others expressed concern over the significant rate increases that would have residents paying an average increase of $180 more each year by 2020.
The rate increase is the only way to address the serious problems the city faces, council president Mike Campbell said.
“Having raw sewage in people’s streets, backyards and streams isn’t a good thing,” he said.
The city has long been plagued by overflows to its sewer system. In 2011, a sewage leak into Honey Creek killed several hundred fish, prompting the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to intervene.
The state agency ordered the city to clean up its act or face significant fines. After August 2018, the city will have a year-and-a-half to go 12 consecutive months without any overflows. Since 2012, the city has had 46 bypass and overflow incidents.
The state has so far refrained from fining the city as Greenwood has been moving forward with the compliance plan, city attorney Krista Taggart said.
In order to cover the cost of the project, rates would increase over a period of four years. Rates would increase by 13 percent in 2017, 11 percent in 2018, 10 percent in 2019 and 8 percent in 2020. The result would be a 49 percent cumulative increase in what residents pay each month on their sewer bill, according to the rate study by Crowe Horwath.
The rate increases are projected to bring in an additional $5.5 million a year, which will go toward paying off about $65 million in loans the city would take on to pay for the project.
Prior rate increases were used to fund repairs and replace pipeline in the sewer system, city officials said.
If the rate increase were approved, that would mean the sewer rates would have tripled in just a decade.
For seniors or others on a fixed income, these large increases can be difficult to bear, council member Chuck Landon said.
“It seems like an excessive rate to me, and it has to be explained and justified,” Landon said.
Too many unanswered questions exist about the project, he said.
“The citizens of Greenwood deserve to have these questions answered,” Landon said.
No one wants the rates to go up, but the city is left without any other choice to be in compliance with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Campbell said.
“We can’t keep having these spills where we are dumping raw sewage out into the open,” he said.
As of now, the system is operating at 100 percent capacity and lacks the capacity for more homes or business to connect to it, Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said.
“The rates weren’t increased for years, and we are playing catch-up,” Myers said.
“This is just something that has to be done.”
The White River Township area is set to expand as I-69 is built, and the city needs to plan for increased sewer capacity needed to handle that, Myers said.
When the pipeline is finished, it will only be using a little over a third of its capacity, leaving room for long term growth, he said.
The pipes can have a lifespan of more than 50 years, which means they have to be sized for future growth, Steinmetz said.
“You don’t want to bring on something and use 95 percent of it right away,” he said.
Another reason the pipeline’s capacity would be so large is because of some geographical constraints, Taggart said. Because of the creek it must pass under before the pipeline gets to its connection in Marion County, the gravity-based pipeline must travel on a low slope, which necessitates larger pipes with more capacity, she said.
The city could have gone with lift stations — used to raise sewage to a higher elevation so it can flow downhill again — but instead selected a gravity-based system which will remove 10 electric-powered lift stations, Stone said.
The 10 stations cost $250,000 a year to run and are costly to fix. Several will soon need to be replaced, and that can cost as much as $400,000 to $500,000, he said.
Sewer rates in Greenwood have been increased five times since 2010, and the city is considering more increases:
Proposed sewer rate increases
What: Open house to discuss proposed sewer rates and projects
When: 5:30 to 7 p.m., Oct. 25
Where: Center Grove North Middle School, 202. N. Morgantown Road, Greenwood.
What: Open house to discuss proposed sewer rates and projects
When: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Nov. 3
Where: City center building, 300 S. Madison Ave., Greenwood.
What: Public hearing for sewer rates
When: 7 p.m., Nov. 9, during Greenwood City Council meeting
Where: City center building