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Raised sewer fees in Jacksonville to pay for water treatment plant renovations

Time: 2015-11-24

Jacksonville residents are paying more in their monthly sewer bills so the city can afford to renovate its wastewater treatment plant.

The City Council in April approved the increased rates now in effect since the fiscal year began in October. Customers’ flat fee each month is up $5 to $7.50, and the $2.22 they paid for every 1,000 gallons of water used is now $3.25, said Michael Rinker, the office manager for Jacksonville’s Water Works, Gas and Sewer Board.

According to city figures, the average customer is now paying $30.25 for his or her sewer bill, a rise of about 67 percent compared to the former fee structure.

Mayor Johnny Smith said income collected from the bills will go toward paying off a $10 million loan through the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. The loan, he said, is being borrowed at a 2.25 percent interest rate and will be paid off over a 20-year period.

“We kept putting it off because we knew it was gonna be expensive,” Smith said of the overhaul to the plant, which cleans water that flows out of bathrooms and kitchens. City officials said the facility hasn’t seen renovations since the early 1990s.

“One of the reason we held off on it was because you never want to increase people’s rates,” Smith added. “But it got to the point where we needed to move on it.”

Chris Patterson, the manager at the plant who started working there in 1997, said the site needs to be addressed “A to Z, top to bottom.” Some parts of it, he said, “are literally falling apart.” He said one infrastructural issue was related to aeration, the process through which bad gases are removed from water.

He said the plant was in compliance with ADEM regulations and would remain so through the renovations. Rinker said the work would probably not begin before the summer.

“The idea is to be proactive,” Patterson said. “There’s so many potentials that can go wrong out here. ... Today, we’re good. Tomorrow, we’ll probably be good. This is to make sure we stay that way.”

Rinker said 4,106 customers in Jacksonville currently pay sewer bills, as they are serviced by the city’s sewer system. The $3.25 customers now pay per 1,000 gallons of water used is right at what a 2014 ADEM survey reports as the median for municipalities around the state. The same survey reports that customers within a service population of Jacksonville’s size pay an average flat fee of of $12.75 — $5.25 above the city’s raised fee.

The survey also states that residential customers in the Southeast consume an average of 4,000 to 6,000 gallons a month. Rinker said that average in Jacksonville was closer to 7,000.

“I have to pay those same rates,” Patterson said he tells people when he hears their complaints about the increases. “We have to look at the future.”

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