Rate hike expected for sewer project
Sewer rate increases should be expected later this year after Madison City Council members approved a preliminary report for a multi-million dollar project to address long-term upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Commonwealth Engineers Inc. of Indianapolis presented a preliminary engineering report during Tuesday’s city council meeting. The report will allow the city to apply for funding through the state revolving loan fund for the project. Brian Jackson, the city’s utilities manager, said the estimated $10 million project would cause the sewer portion of utility bills to increase by about 22.5 percent. For a home producing 2,000 gallons of sewage per month, the bill would increase by about $3.94 per month. An average customer produces a little less than 4,000 gallons of sewage per month, Jackson said. A home producing 4,000 gallons would see a monthly increase of about $6.94. The minimum sewer bill of $17.50 would increase to $21.44. The increase also would affect industrial rates as well, Jackson said. Officials said increases won’t be implemented immediately, but increased rates will be brought before the council for approval and begin later this year before construction begins. Commonwealth Engineers President Al Stong said a combined sewer overflow project proposed in 2014 came in over the original estimate. City officials asked for a peer review of the project from Commonwealth Engineers. The original projection of the project was to be about $10 million, but an engineering firm told the city after a contract had been signed that the project would more likely cost about $17 million. Commonwealth Engineers found some areas where cuts could be made, reducing the project by more than half of the $17 million estimate. City officials also agreed to take a step back and received an extension from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to further study the project. Commonwealth Engineers identified two other issues that needed to be addressed - sanitary sewer overflows on the hilltop and the elimination of nutrients from the wastewater treatment plant. Commonwealth Engineers officials said with the changes, the project is now estimated to cost $10,670,300 for construction costs, which, they said, is a conservative estimate. Bids could come in lower than the estimate, they said. Engineers broke down cost estimates of the project with $7.1 million going toward the original combined sewer overflow project, $3 million for the added hilltop storage basin to address overflow issues and $600,000 for phosphorus removal from the wastewater treatment plant. The project would include the construction of a hilltop basin near the Madison State Hospital to control overflow issues, repairs to a 12-inch sewer pipe near Cragmont Street, the addition of a pump station near Crooked Creek at Cragmont Street and additional storage at the city’s wastewater treatment facility, project manager Robert Bellucci said following the meeting. Construction would also add parallel pipes along Vaughn Drive to address overflow issues in the downtown area and expand a lift station already near the Broadway and Vaughn Drive. The project would need to be “substantially completed” by Dec. 2018, per an agreement with state officials. Stong said after the meeting that the rates may seem high, but the increases are only about half of what the increase would have been if city officials didn’t take a step back to reevaluate the project in 2014. The increases also will take care of more of the sewer issues than the 2014 project proposal, he said. City council members unanimously approved the mayor to serve as an authorized representative to communicate with State Revolving Loan Program for the project’s funding by a vote of 6-0. Councilman David Alcorn was absent from the meeting. City council members also unanimously accepted the preliminary engineering report during the meeting by a vote of 6-0.