Huntington sewer rates not going up as high as originally proposed

Sewer rates for Huntington utility customers will be going up, but the increase won’t be as much as initially proposed.

That’s because bids for improvements to the city’s sewage treatment system came in lower than engineers’ estimates, members of the Huntington Common Council learned during their meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 28.

Residential customers using 4,000 gallons of water a month — the amount considered to be average — will be charged $56.43 in sewage treatment fees beginning with the next full billing period. That’s an increase of $11.55, or 26 percent, over those customers’ current bills of $44.88.

The initial proposal would have seen monthly sewer bills for those customers increase by 28 percent, to $57.64.
Revenue from the increased fees will pay for ongoing improvements as the city works to meet state and federal mandates to keep raw sewage from flowing into area streams. This segment of the 18-year project will include additional separation of storm and sanitary sewers as well as upgrades to a lift station that carries stormwater from the south side of Huntington to the river.

Initially, the cost of the current project was estimated at $12.8 million, said Jeff Rowe, of the financial consulting firm Umbaugh. However, bids on the project came in at just $10.6 million, he said.

The new rates for utility customers are based on “true cost of service,” Rowe said, meaning that the 26 percent increase will not be applied across the board.

Bills for low volume users will increase by a higher percentage, while high volume industrial users could see increases of about 14 percent.

“The more volume, the lower the percentage increase would be,” Rowe said.

Council members gave final approval to the new rates on a 5-0 vote, with Erin Covey and Charles Chapman absent.

In other business:

• The council voted 5-0 to ban all tobacco products and electronic cigarettes from city parks.

Councilman Jack Slusser asked that a plan for enforcing the ordinance, including an outline of how and where signs would be placed in the parks, be presented to the council prior to its second and final vote on the ordinance.

• A recently passed ordinance establishing a curbside recycling program in the city was tweaked to include owners of residential properties that are not connected to city utilities but which do receive city trash collection.

The change must be approved on a second reading before it becomes effective.

• Bryn Keplinger, director of community development and redevelopment, presented a request from Indiana Box for annexation of property it owns just east of Riverfork Industrial Park.

Keplinger said the company has requested annexation of the approximately 20-acre parcel in order to prepare for possible growth.

Council scheduled a special meeting on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. to hold a public hearing on the request.

• The council gave final approval to the vacation of an unimproved alley running behind Ingle’s Service Center on First Street.