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Lebanon City Council Approves Rising Sewer, Water Rates



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Lebanon — City officials lamented rising sewer and water fees scheduled for next year but ultimately pushed through the higher rates on Wednesday, saying additional money is needed to pay for infrastructure projects.

The City Council voted unanimously to approve an 8 percent increase in Lebanon’s water rate, as well a 7.2 percent sewer rate hike, both of which will go into effect on Jan. 1.

But councilors stressed that the increases are meant to be temporary and in place only until officials come up with a restructured pay scheme.

“I know that we all had some degree of unease with the amount of these rates, and we know that they can’t continue to increase at this rate over time,” said Assistant Mayor Tim McNamara, who added that the Council will be working early next year to come up with different rates.

The city’s sewer and water bills currently are paid using a two-tier system, where users are billed a minimum charge that covers a set amount of either water or wastewater. Ratepayers then are charged extra after going over that set amount.

For instance, water will cost Lebanon households $36.83 per quarter for up to 700 cubic feet of water, and $52.96 for every 1,000 cubic feet thereafter.

But officials have wondered whether there are better ways to set the rates, and the City Council hired consultant firm Raftelis Inc. to study additional options. The group produced a report this summer that considers eliminating the minimum charge, but councilors haven’t yet finished meetings to determine a path forward.

Officials said they were comfortable voting for the fee increases, knowing they’re likely not permanent, and will continue to keep revenue coming into city coffers.

“At least we know that we’re not creating a bigger problem in the meantime,” Councilor Karen Liot Hill said. “It seems like it’s the right thing to do, the responsible thing to do.”

The average Lebanon household, according to numbers from City Finance Director Len Jarvi, is expected to pay $1,021 in sewer bills if the rates are maintained through the year, which amounts to an increase of $68.62 over this year’s.

The average household water bill would increase by $37.73 to $509.71, he predicted.

Much of that money will either be used to pay for new sewer and water projects or to reduce the debt from old ones.

Lebanon’s annual debt payments are expected to jump to $12.6 million by 2023, a 68 percent increase, according to Jarvi’s projections. Roughly 24 percent of that money will come from a designated water fund, while another 25 percent will be paid through a sewer account.

The city has taken on several costly infrastructure improvements paid for by sewer and water users, including the combined sewer overflow projects, a $75.3 million effort to separate sewer and stormwater in about 15 miles of the city’s sewer system.

There also are projects awaiting construction, such as a $3.4 million effort to upgrade the water treatment facility and $290,000 for water system mapping, according to Lebanon’s capital improvements budget.

Officials also are hoping to spend $2.5 million on initial efforts to upgrade a section of sewer line that connects downtown and West Lebanon.

Engineers found that the sewer interceptor running between the two neighborhoods was nearing capacity last year, which led the City Council to put Lebanon’s east end under a building moratorium. The city’s administration hopes to lift the limit over the next three to four years, according to City Manager Shaun Mulholland’s proposed budget.

Mulholland said the city is looking at ways to pay for at least part of those projects, including a program that would allow the Lebanon wastewater treatment plan to accept septage from commercial companies. That way, costs aren’t falling entirely on ratepayers.

“We’re looking at other routes aggressively,” he told the Council.

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

Correction

The Lebanon City Council on Wednesday night approved an increase in water and sewer fees. An earlier version of this story and headline incorrectly described what sort of levy they are.