By Ralph Echtinaw
Sewer and water rates continued their upward spiral Tuesday as city council voted unanimously to increase charges to homeowners by 10.5 percent beginning Aug. 1.
The increases are the second step in a plan to raise water and sewer rates by about 10 percent a year over six or seven years, which will increase the water and sewer charges of 2017 by more than 80 percent.
According to City Manager Kurt Giles: “The ultimate goal is for communities to develop complete plans that allow them to invest in replacement infrastructure in a timely manner, finance system expansions if needed and continue to operate their systems at the appropriate levels of service.”
Some 23,400 feet of sanitary sewer pipe in St. Louis is in need of replacement or repair.
That figure represents 20 percent of the 22 miles of sanitary sewer pipe in St. Louis. The dilapidated pipe is located all over the city. If you live within the city limits you are probably within one block of a stretch of sewer pipe in need of repair or replacement.
That said, city administrators modified their plan, giving relief to industrial and institutional customers that have large meters but relatively low water use and as a result experienced jaw-dropping increases after last year’s rate hike.
For example, one seasonal industrial customer was hit with 54 percent increase, Giles said. “Some of the schools were much higher than that. The middle school and high school, as an example, it really hit them hard. This will help that.”
To address that problem the flat fee for water use was reduced, and the fee per 1,000 gallons stayed the same.
Giles gave a hypothetical example of a customer with a 4-inch water meter that uses an average of 25,250 gallons per month. That hypothetical customer experienced a 200 percent increase in water and sewer fees from 2017 to 2018. What was approved Tuesday will bring that customer’s costs back to 31 percent above the 2017 level, Giles said.
Homeowners can lessen the bite of water and sewer rate hikes by using less water, as both sewer and water fees are based on water meter readings. Ways to do this include not watering your lawn or washing your car at home. Take fewer showers. Don’t flush the toilet every time. Don’t let the water run while you’re brushing your teeth. If you’re waiting for the water to get hot, capture the cold water that comes out while you’re waiting and use it for drinking, etc.
Solid waste fees up, too
City council members voted unanimously to raise the charge for collection of solid waste, hazardous waste and yard debris from $26.94 to $28.26 per month beginning July 1, a 4.9 percent increase.
This appears on your monthly bill under the “Refuse” category and include trash pickup, leaf and brush collection and hazardous waste disposal. The city breaks it down to yard waste ($13.06), solid waste ($14.77) and hazardous waste (43 cents).
Council voted to spend up to $10,880 for stalls and lavatory tops in the W. T. Morris pool house that is undergoing an extensive renovation.
The original estimate for that portion of the job was $7,000.
No contractor has been chosen yet. City officials hope to have the pool open by mid June.
Overall, the cost of pool house renovations is $45,000 to $50,000 more than originally estimated, Giles said.
The good news is that the majority of pool renovation funds come from elsewhere.
Gratiot County Community Foundation: $50,000
Hoffmeyer Trust and other private donors: $39,000
DeShano Companies: $20,000
“Current projections have us in a range between $145,000 and $150,000 to complete the project,” Giles said via email. So St. Louis property owners are on the hook for about $36,000 to cover the cost of pool renovations.
Cost overruns are “mostly a result of refining the scope of what is needed,” Giles said. “A couple of minor items were not anticipated until there was consultation with inspectors, and I believe construction costs have generally been rising.”
Plus, as Giles told council last month, “It’s been 60 plus years of doing very little in that building.”
New Soccer Complex?
Giles told council members that a youth soccer group has asked about buying 37 acres the city owns on the north side of Cheeseman and east of Begole (in Pine River Township) called Lentz Farm. The group wants to build a soccer complex there.
“I have thought it wasn’t something we’d want to own long term but we’re not really ready for a sale yet,” Giles said. There would have to be an easement created for a water main that runs across the property, and something would have to be done with three wells there.
Price was not discussed, but Giles said the property “has certainly appreciated even in terms of farm land prices since we bought it.”
Giles said he made it clear to the soccer people that the city would want “something that would at least resemble market value” in exchange for the property.
The state equalized value of the property is $85,700.
Four St. Louis residents have turned in petitions with a sufficient number of signatures to be on the ballot in November for election to city council.
They are Bill Leonard, 73, Don Dean, 70, Roger Collison, 69, and this reporter, 60.
The four of us will compete to fill two city council seats that are open because council members Jerry Church and Melissa Allen are not seeking re-election.
Mayor James C. Kelly is on the ballot, too, but running unopposed.
All candidates are invited to write an article for the Sentinel to introduce themselves to voters.
There were no absences on the council. Council candidates Leonard, Collison and this reporter were present. Donald Dean was not.