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City plans 2-step sewer rate hike

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Greenwood residents would start paying more for sewer service in June and then see another increase next year as part of a proposal to pay for patching and replacing aged sewer pipes.

The city council would need to approve both rate increases, which would add up to about $5 more per month for an average Greenwood sewer customer after both increases, controller Adam Stone said. Right now, an average residential sewer bill is $32 a month for 5,000 gallons of water, he said.

Residents have been paying more in their monthly sewer bills after multiple increases in the past few years because the city wasn’t charging enough to keep up with expenses, officials said.

The proposed increases, which would be done in two phases starting this year, would pay loan payments on more than $8 million in projects. One of those projects involves replacing a 100-year-old sewer line serving homes and businesses in downtown Greenwood.

The projects are being required by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. The city has been under state scrutiny since 2012 when a sewer overflow killed hundreds of fish in Honey Creek. The state wants Greenwood to not have any sanitation system overflows in a 12-month period, which hasn’t happened yet, city attorney Krista Taggart said.

The city’s sewer rate wasn’t increased from 1998 to 2010, so Greenwood couldn’t afford to replace or maintain the aging infrastructure in past years, Stone said.

Now, the city is considering more than $50 million in projects during the next decade.

What’s next

April 21: Initial vote by the Greenwood City Council

May 5: Public hearing and final vote by the city council

Both will be part of the regular city council meetings, which begin at 7 p.m. Those meetings are set to be conducted at the new city hall, 300 S. Madison Ave.

Sewer pipes, especially in the oldest part of the city, have deteriorated, allowing rainwater to get into the system and causing it to overflow, said Eric Smith, director of water resources for HWC Engineering. In 2013, HWC Engineering sent cameras through city sewer pipes, inspected manholes and studied the increases of water flow through the system when it rained. Those studies showed the areas in the city where sections of the sanitary sewer system need to be repaired or replaced.

Without increasing sewer rates, the city won’t be able to pay for projects to get the city compliant with Indiana Department of Environmental Management rules, city attorney Krista Taggart said.

This week, Stone proposed the city increase sewer rates by $2.50 per month for the average sewer customer, which would equal about a 9 percent increase, starting in June. About six months later, the city would increase the rate another $2.50 per month, according to Stone. The city council has not voted on the rate increases and would need to approve the proposed increases twice before they could go into effect.

The money from those two proposed increases is expected to be enough to cover the bond payments and other costs of replacing sewer pipes at Pearl Street and other old town sanitary sewer projects.

The work Greenwood starts this year will cost about $5.2 million. The city hasn’t yet found funding to cover the other tens of millions of dollars in work and likely will do another rate study and consider the fees again in 2016, Stone said.

Greenwood has a list of $54 million in capital improvements for the city sewer system. The city must start making progress on the list this year to avoid expensive fines from the state, and replacing the oldest pipe in the city likely will be the first project, Taggart said.

The capital projects should be completed within the next 10 or 15 years for the city to follow state rules, officials have said.

The sewer system was neglected for more than 10 years, causing the city to have to raise rates now to complete projects, city council member Brent Corey said.

“Unfortunately, I think we’re paying for our sins in the past,” he said.

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