City Council seeks to halt sewer rate hikes

Cost savings may be passed on to ratepayers
By: Melody Stone, Journal staff writer
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Auburn city officials hope to cut residents a break on sewer fees. Monday night, the Auburn City Council directed staff to look into ending the scheduled sewer fee increases in light of major cost savings with the waste water treatment plant upgrades. City Manager Robert Richardson said it’s not as easy as just deciding to halt the fee hikes. “There’s an amazing number of dimensions,” Richardson said before Monday’s meeting. “We’ve spent a lot less than we thought — how does that translate?” He said staff will investigate the issue and see if it’s feasible to stop the planned sewer rate increase from $56.25 to $58.25 in the fiscal year 2010-11 as well as impliment further rate decreases in the future. Originally, the sewer plant improvements were estimated to cost the city $11.7 million, but due to the recession and lower construction costs the projects came in at around $4.6 million. Administrative Director Andy Heath reported the sewer fund will have around $9.1 million in June of 2010. Councilman Kevin Hanley presented this item to the council and called the sewer fund, “too healthy.” “Staff has done a good job of looking at cost reductions,” Hanley said. “(Let’s) stop the scheduled rate increase … and see if we can lower sewer rates in the next year.” Hanley suggested staff analyze the item and bring it back for a vote. Councilman Bill Kirby said the money was raised for the sewer plant upgrades and if the city saved money on the upgrades that should be reflected in the sewer rates. “The bond was to fix the sewer plant, we have an obligation to keep our promises to the citizens,” Kirby said. “We’re getting a significant reduction in cost. That money needs to go back (to taxpayers).” The council was keen on making a motion to halt the rate increases right away but staff said there was still analysis that needed to take place before making that decision. Public Works Director Jack Warren said when you get something you give up something else. “We do have a little more revenue and a little less expense than we thought we had,” Warren said. However that money could be used to pay off the bonds quicker and have a bigger rate reduction after the debt is resolved, or the money could go toward plugging into a regional waste water treatment facility in Lincoln.