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NL water, sewer utility budgets projected to rise

By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader

NORTH LIBERTY– It’s too early to tell whether or not residents of North Liberty will see rate hikes on their water and sewer bills.
What is known is that the expenses for both municipal utilities are going to climb, and taxpayers will eventually be funding those increases in one way or another.
Even though the city adds accounts and sells more gallons of water each year– thus generating more revenues– a larger population also creates more demands on the city’s water and sewer systems.
The North Liberty City Council met in a work session Dec. 17 to hear from city department heads, including water superintendent Greg Metternich and wastewater superintendent Dave Ramsey, about their biggest needs in providing service to residents in fiscal year 2015.
Both the water plant and the wastewater treatment plant have seen substantial increases in their own electricity bills, as well as lab fees both departments must pay for ongoing water quality tests. The costs of hauling sludge have also increased, all of which add to the utilities’ bottom lines.
Another significant line item in the wastewater plant’s budget is building a reserve for eventually replacing specific components in the city’s membrane bioreactor system that treats wastewater before it is released back into the watershed. The city has been setting aside $90,000 to $92,000 annually in a reserve fund to save up for the membrane replacement costs. The 12 membranes alone will cost about $900,000 to replace, and the components– which must be shipped from Hungary– are slated to be purchased in 2018.
However, a recent study conducted by Fox Engineering indicated that both the city’s water and the wastewater treatment plants will need to be expanded in the near future to continue to meet the demand of a growing population. For the water utility, Fox’s report suggests extending a water main on the west side of town, replacing aging water mains, adding a new water tower, constructing a new water plant and digging a new Jordan aquifer well. The estimated costs for those projects totals about $20.4 million.
On the wastewater side, the city anticipates needing to expand the existing facility at an estimated cost of $15.3 million in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation in construction expenses as time goes on.
Residents saw a 12 percent increase in the base water rate in fiscal year 2013, and an eight percent increase in water consumption rates for 2014. The base sewer rate increased by eight percent in 2013 and saw a five percent increase in the consumption rate this past fiscal year.
At the Dec. 17 meeting, City Administrator Ryan Heiar presented a preliminary budget for both departments to the city council, projecting an overall increase for consumers of five percent in water rates and an eight percent increase in sewer rates.
Those rate projections were considered very preliminary, Heiar said, as he and city department heads still had not met to refine their budget requests.
The council is scheduled to hold another work session to discuss the city’s budget on Wednesday, Jan. 22.