Saline Sewer Bills To Go Up By $72 Per Year

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Saline’s sewer rate bills will be going to be changed to 6.6 percent as of June 1, to help cover the costs of the city’s massive investments in its sewage system renovation, and other infrastructure priorities. City Council unanimously approved the increase to $72 a year per household, Monday evening.

City Manager Coleen O’Toole said that she recommended this plan to council because it provided a much smoother path forward to increase funding by changing the way general fund dollars are used on infrastructure project. The plan the city went with is designed so taxpayers would get a much more gradual increase to pay for the repairs and expansion, rather than having to go through one big hike at once. The increase of $18 per quarter to taxpayers was the third option presented to the council. 

“Additional improvements are going to be needed to be made to the wastewater treatment plant,” O’Toole said. The plan “takes the existing reserve funds we have and spreads them out over future years, so in no subsequent years is any resident hit with an astronomical increase.”

Saline’s population is expected to keep growing as the Coronavirus Pandemic slowly winds down, just like it was before. O’Toole was hired into her position six months ago having to contend with an aging wastewater treatment plant in dire need of renovation.

The city is spending $76 million to modernize and expand the wastewater treatment plant, which expects projected would soon not be large enough for the city’s needs. Councilor Dell’Orco said for the record that he considered this an “anomaly” of circumstances, because numerous, and expensive, public infrastructure needs came up at virtually the same time, right before Covid hit.

“I think that the rate increase is reasonable,” and a necessity for maintaining the city’s infrastructure, Mayor Brian Marl said, before joining the rest of the council to approve the increase.

City staff told the Council that the city sometimes finds itself facing surprise expenses because of the sheer number of moving parts that makes the city run, with staff usually only working with anecdotal evidence of what building or piece of equipment is getting old and will need replacement. That is why elsewhere on the May 17 meeting, Council approved a $39,500 contract with the firm IMEG, to conduct a 15 year “facility condition assessment.”

According to the May 17 working session agenda, the Illinois-based engineering and design consultancy will provide a systemic view of the ware and tear of the city’s buildings an equipment, to provide a systemic assessment of what needs to be fixed when. So instead of the city being unpleasantly surprised when something breaks, or needs tens of millions of dollars in repairs, the city will know what will need to be renovated or replaced when, and will be able to plan more effectively, thus reducing long term costs.

“To me, that kind of work is critical, because it lays the foundation for avoiding this kind of future sudden cost increases. We can plan for that when we know what to expect, and we can set up a strategy to know what to set aside year over year, instead of being surprised by large scale maintenance projects that we didn’t see coming,” O’Toole said.

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