The likely answer appears to be a rate increase. Several members of the board met with Cook Coggin Engineers Monday afternoon to discuss possible scenarios, including various combinations of increases to the base rate and usage rate for residential, industrial and commercial customers.
At the end of fiscal 2015, it became apparent that sewer revenues were not meeting expectations and the sewer enterprise fund was taking a hit, even though the city implemented new rates in 2012 to cover debt associated with the $20 million treatment plant rehabilitation and $3 million sewer collection assessment and repairs. The sewer enterprise fund faces an $800,000 annual shortfall and will be mostly wiped out by 2018 if no action is taken.
Declining industrial usage is the largest of several contributing factors identified by Director of Community Development and Planning David Huwe. Usage among six of the largest customers fell from just shy of 50 million cubit feet in fiscal 2010 to 33.3 million in fiscal 2016. The loss of Quad Graphics was a major factor, taking 3.8 million cubic feet per year of usage and $112,000 annual revenue with it.
Another factor was a water recycling and fiber reclamation project at Kimberly-Clark, which cut its usage by about 30 percent, or $300,000 in revenue at current rates. The plant also saved about $250,000 annually with the improved condition of its effluent stream.
The city also speculates that other industries tried to limit their usage following the 2012 rate increase.
On the residential side, usage is trending slightly downward. Huwe said this is likely due in part to the gradual replacement of older appliances and fixtures with energy efficient ones, such as low-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads.
The board took no action taken on sewer rates but agreed there is no easy solution.
Public Works Director Clayton Mills said efforts to reduce expenses have been made.
“We cut back on a lot of areas,” he said. “Overtime was a big part of the sewer department.”
And more infrastructure improvements are needed on the collection side, he said.