×

Lebanon to Increase Sewer, Water Rates



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, December 07, 2017

Lebanon — City residents can expect to see higher water and sewer bills in the coming year, after the City Council voted on Wednesday to raise rates.

The council voted unanimously to raise sewer and water rates by 5 percent each in 2018, a measure officials say will protect households from more drastic increases in the future.

“They certainly could be worse, and in the past they have been,” Councilor Karen Liot Hill said of the new rates.

The increases are meant to be part of a larger trend, gradually easing households into higher payments instead of instituting one-time hikes in the coming years, Lebanon Finance Director Len Jarvi said.

Large, looming debt payments likely would force the city to adopt such methods, he warned.

The city predicts its debt service payments will likely total $7.5 million next year, a 3 percent increase over this year’s, according to city budget documents. Payments also are expected to continue on that trend into 2022, when officials predict $11.7 million will be needed to meet the annual bills.

While nearly half of that money will be raised by property taxes, almost all of the remainder will rely on water and sewer rates, according to budget projections.

Jarvi said capital projects are the “main driver” of that debt, particularly the federally mandated combined sewer overflow project, a long-running effort to separate sewer and stormwater in about 15 miles of city pipes.

Lebanon is expected to pay roughly $73 million for the project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2020.

Upgrades to the city’s sewer treatment facility in West Lebanon and utility replacement also contributed to the debt, Jarvi said.

He predicted on Wednesday that the city will propose 5 percent increases each year until 2023, although his projections don’t include costs that are unexpected or unplanned.

“It’s like a moving target. It’s organic as we move into the future,” he said.

The rates were contested on Wednesday by Joe Asch, owner of the River Valley Club.

He called increases a sign of a “complete mess and disorganization” at City Hall, while also saying his new water and sewer bill likely would outpace real estate taxes.

Asch’s fitness center in the Centerra business park paid about $145,000 in 2017 property taxes, according to city tax records.

City councilors appeared to accept the facts driving the increases while at the same time hoping they could someday be lessened.

“It’s obviously unfortunate that we need to be having these steady increases to water and sewer rates,” said Councilor Clifton Below, who went on to call the increases “prudent.”

The city didn’t have a choice in investing in infrastructure, he said, adding other Upper Valley communities have been more lucky.

The City Council also voted on Wednesday to postpone another sewer decision in the hopes that all councilors could be present for the discussion.

Lebanon officials have proposed a temporary limit to new sewer hookups east of Exit 19 in an effort to allow time to find a long-term solution to sewer capacity issues on that side of the city.

A recent study of that portion of sewer found there’s only enough capacity for about 40 single-family homes in the eastern part of the city before the sewer reaches a problematic threshold.

In response, an ordinance currently before the council calls for limits to the number of homes a landowner could build around the downtown area in the coming year. It also proposes switching to a different method more closely aligned with state standards to calculate sewer flows.

The proposed sewer limit will be discussed at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 3, at City Hall.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.