Utility rates remain unchanged

Sean C. Morgan

Take a look at your water and sewer bill for the past two months. You might notice the rates are the same as they were in June.

The city of Sweet Home did not change the rates at all this fiscal year, which began on July 1.

The City Council normally passes a resolution in February setting new rates to take effect on July 1.

For most residential users, the rate remains $5.95 per 100 cubic feet above 400. The sewer rate remains at $4.94 per 100 cubic feet above 400. Base costs remain at $17.90 for water and $26.89 for sewer. Rates are applied on top of the base charge based on usage.

An increase wasn’t needed, said Public Works Director Mike Adams. “Given the economic climate and given that we had already accounted for the debt we had to date,” the city could forego any increases this year.

The major component of increases in past years have been improvements and repairs to the sewer collection system and a new water treatment plant.

“It provides a little bit of recognition there are some tough times out there,” Adams said.

Expenses still loom for city utility users though.

The city is anticipating making improvements at the wastewater treatment plant to help handle overflows from inflow and infiltration.

Inflow and infiltration is storm water that leaks into the sewer system through deteriorating pipes or through cross connections. During heavy rains, so much storm water can enter the sewer system that it overloads the treatment plant, and untreated wastewater must be released into the South Santiam River.

The city has been working under an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Quality to prevent I&I bypasses for the past decade. The deadline was Jan. 1, 2010, but the city has been working unofficially on a continuing plan to reduce I&I.

“They’re working with us,” Adams said of the DEQ. “They just haven’t gone through their process to give us anything formally.”

The fourth phase of the ongoing I&I reduction project is under way now, with laterals and main lines being replaced and repaired in numerous areas around town.

The contract is for 400 days, Adams said. Starting in May, about two-thirds of the contract is left. The project includes areas such as Long and 43rd, 49th Avenue and Airport Road.

“They seem to be right where they want to be and anticipating to be,” Adams said of the work being done.

After the project is finished next year, the city will consult with Brown and Caldwell to determine how much I&I flow remains at the wastewater treatment plant during the following wet season.

In mid to late 2013, the city will figure out what steps to take at the plant, he said. “Reports indicate our best bang for the buck will be invest in improvements at the wastewater treatment plant itself to handle the excess I&I we have.”

DEQ officials want the bypasses stopped completely, Adams said, “and you’ve got to be able to do that as quickly as possible.”

That means improvements at the plant, he said, but those improvements don’t fix the actual problem.

To eliminate I&I, the city will still need to continue working on a smaller scale in the sewer collection system, he said. Work at the plant allows the city to keep working on the problem over a longer period.

In the water system, the city is working on preliminary environmental reports at the old water treatment plant on Ninth Avenue.

It appears the demolition of the plant, which was built in 1938 and closed in 2009, will include the abatement of asbestos and lead paint in small areas of the plant.

The city will demolish the plant at some point, Adams said, but there is no rush.