Water and sewer rates in Springfield may rise nearly 40 percent over the next three years to pay for more than $80 million in federally mandated projects designed to cut down on raw sewage overflows into local waterways.
However Springfield still has one of the most affordable utility rates in the region, even with the planned increases, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said.
The increases are expected to be 13.7 percent in 2018 and 13 percent in both 2019 and 2020, according to public documents. City commissioners are expected to vote on the proposed increases on Dec. 5.
The projects have been mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the city has no choice but to charge utility users to pay for them, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said.
“The federal government is making us spend money and isn’t giving us any money to cover that, so this has to be paid for by the local folks,” he said. “The feds are the ones who decided we had to spend it. It wasn’t our decision. We didn’t have a choice.”
All bills are calculated based on water usage. A typical home using about 3,000 gallons of water per month paid about $32 per month for sewer and water last year. If commissioners approve the rate hikes, that same home will see its rate increase to $36.37 next year, $41.11 in 2019 and $46.46 in 2020, Beckdahl said.
Springfield is expected to spend more than $250 million over the next 25 years on sewer projects as part of its combined sewer overflow program, designed to keep raw sewage from flowing into local streams and waterways, such as Buck Creek and Mad River.
“We did not just run into this project,” Springfield City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill said. “This project has been facing us for over 20 years and we have delayed the project hoping the federal government would come to its senses or that there would be money or grants or something so that we didn’t have to bite this bullet, but it didn’t happen.”
Last year the city saw a decrease in its overall water usage due to one major business leaving town and overall conservation efforts at both homes and businesses, Beckdahl said.
“It’s all led to declining usage of our water and a lower income to the water fund, which also carries over to our sewer fund,” he said.
The city’s sewer fund is projected to have about $6 million in debt next year to pay for those combined sewer overflow projects, Beckdahl said.
The $60 million high-rate treatment clarifier — the single most expensive item ever approved by city commissioners — began construction in 2012 and was completed in 2016. The plant now has the capacity to treat up to 140 million gallons of sewage per day.
The city hasn’t had an overflow at the site since the project was completed, Springfield Service Director Chris Moore said.
Water rates have also remained stable for nine years, Moore said.
The $20 million Erie Express Sewer, which will send sewage from the area of Bechtle Avenue and Ohio 41 straight to the Wastewater Treatment Plant on Dayton Avenue, is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in November of 2018.
Springfield ranked among the 10 lowest cities in the region for water and sewer utility rates this year, according to the annual Oakwood Water and Sewer Rate Survey released in March. Springfield residents pay about $189 every three months for combined water and sewer, based on 22,500 gallons of water used every three months, ranking seventh lowest overall.
If the increase is approved, it will remain in the bottom-15 municipalities in the 63-community region, Bodenmiller said.
“It’s half of what they are in some of the more expensive communities,” he said. “It makes us more competitive for economic development and our residents.”
3 QUICK SPRINGFIELD READS
Staying with the story
The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively on the city’s Combined Sewer Overflow long-term control plan for the past several years, including stories digging into the costs and the amount of sewage released into local waterways.
By the Numbers
$250 million: Estimated total cost of all projects required to cut down raw sewage overflows into local waterways.
$80 million: Money the city has spent on federally mandated sewer projects since 2012.
$60 million: Cost of the high-rate treatment clarifier at the wastewater treatment plant, the single most expensive item ever approved by city commissioners.
13: Percentage increase of water and sewer rates in each of the next three years.