The City of Jacksonville will be increasing sewer rates in the coming year to offset some upcoming projects to the waste water treatment plant.
Superintendent of Municipal Utilities Sally Long says she fought long and hard to keep current utility rates at their current level: “As you know, I fight really hard to keep the [utility] rates steady. You have known me for years, and I have always fought and fought. Unfortunately, this year with the budget, we just had some items in the budget that increased the rates.”
Long says that because water and sewer are enterprise funds and cannot be funded by the city’s tax levy, Jacksonville City Utilities has to budget according to revenues from water and sewer rates: “Whatever our budget is, we have to have the rates to pay the bills. So, we have to be very careful with making sure that we ask for enough, and make sure the rates are high enough to pay for the bills.”
The Jacksonville City Council approved the first phase of a 15-year process to completely overhaul the wastewater treatment plant back in June. The total renovation project was estimated at the time to cost approximately $35 million. The first phase will be an overhaul and redesign of the headworks, which is estimated to be around $12 million.
Long says that the largest increase to customers will be in the sewer bill because low interest loans and grants have not been received yet for the project: “You are going to see that the sewer side is the main increase in the rates. It comes with the new sewer upgrade project. We are having to fund a lot of that right up front. In 2022, we’re not going to get any of our low-interest loan funds, so we had to budget a little extra so that we could pay for the initial part of the project.”
The project isn’t expected to disrupt any service and is designed to help comply with new EPA standards in limiting the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico caused by phosphorous and other chemicals emptying into tributaries from the Mississippi River.
According to Long, the minimum bill will rise $3.63 from $37.40 to $41.03 with $1.17 rising on a person’s water bill and $2.46 on the sewer side. Long says the city considers 5,000 gallons usage as an average customer for the city. The average customer will see a $7.05 increase, going from $67.58 up to $74.63. The increase will be $2.43 on the water side with $4.62 on the sewer side. Long said at the December 13th City Council meeting that she doesn’t anticipate any future rate increases in the following years.
Despite the rate increases, Mayor Andy Ezard said during the December 13th City Council meeting that the rates will still be lower in Jacksonville in comparison to communities of similar size. Ezard hopes that residents will understand the need to increase rates to invest in the city’s infrastructure and to keep the city in compliance with national pollution standards.