Residents packed Trafalgar Town Hall on Monday as the city council voted to approve a 43% increase in sewer bills, as well as a doubling of sewer connection fees for new homes.
With the city’s growth, including an approved subdivision for 210 homes on land behind the city’s Dollar General, the sewer may exceed capacity. The city has grown about 67% over the past two decades, according to city officials.
About 30 people filled the seats at the town hall, 10 of whom commented and asked questions during the meeting.
The sudden price increase is hard to fathom, said Trafalgar resident Pamela McQueary.
“We have lived here for a long time. I came back here in my twenties and raised my kids here. We paid for all these sewer issues we had and I’m flabbergasted at the amount of the increase at this time,” McQueary said. “Everyone has two jobs and raises their children. This increase is unreal.
The sewer expansion project is expected to cost a total of approximately $7.2 million. The project would make improvements to expand the wastewater treatment plant from 200,000 gallons per day to 400,000 gallons per day. This would double the city’s sewer capacity, adding 645 equivalent dwelling units, or EDUs, to the system. One residence is equivalent to one DEU.
In order to pay for this, city officials have received two grants from the state and plan to raise sewer rates to cover the cost of a bond the council must post to cover the cost. Trafalgar received a $2.5 million grant from the State Water Infrastructure Fund, or SWIF, and a $700,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, or OCRA.
That left about $4.2 million that the board had to borrow as a bond to be repaid over the next 20 years, with interest. A proposed increase in sewer rates would raise rates by about 43% in total, in two phases. The first phase, which is the biggest rate jump of the two, would begin in October, with bills paid in November, and those rates would remain until construction is complete. The second increase would come after construction is complete, according to city documents.
For the average household, which uses about 4,000 gallons per month on a 5/8 or 3/4 inch meter, the first phase rate change would be about an additional $20 per month, then about 6 $ more in the second phase.
People moving into new homes being built should be responsible for the rising prices because they are the reason the sewer needs more capacity, said Kathy Cruz, another resident.
“In my accommodation, my husband travels for work. There’s only one person doing minimal laundry, and my bill goes from $70 to $124 a month and now you say you’re going to go up even more. We are at retirement age and we will be on fixed incomes,” Cruz said.
The city’s sewage treatment plant is aging and has had many problems, so renovations are needed, said Logan Axsom, the city’s acting superintendent of utilities.
“A large part of our factory is 20 years old. We are replacing our grit trap, our screen needs to be replaced. It’s nowhere near where it’s supposed to work and with the increased capacity we can’t handle the flow,” Axsom said. “We have bearings coming out. If we don’t improve this, we will be a factory that cannot function and will sink in the street, your houses, the water supply, the streams, we must have this upgrade.
The effects of doing nothing cannot be underestimated, said board member Jessica Jones.
“It has to be done,” Jones said. “We’ll have poo in our yards if this doesn’t happen.”
By increasing sewer capacity to this extent, the city won’t need to return for further repairs in 10 years, Axsom said.
The council also voted to raise the fee for connecting new homes to the sewer system from $1,750 to $3,500. The charge will apply to the 140 new homes being built in the city as well as future developments. Connection fees are comparable to other communities in Johnson County. In Bargersville the capacity charge is $4,100, in Edinburgh and Franklin it is $2,000, and in New Whiteland it is $1,100, the board member said. Jason Ramey.
Going forward, the city needs to be more proactive instead of waiting for an emergency like this, Ramey said.
“We were reactive and not proactive enough to be ready for this,” he said.
Both rate increases were passed unanimously by the members present. Board member Jeff Eisenmenger was not present at the special meeting.