Wastewater bills going up in July

Iron Mountain and Kingsford residents will be paying more on their wastewater bills beginning in July.

City councils in both municipalities have approved sewage rate increases to take effect beginning in July in order to make improvements to the Iron Mountain-Kingsford Wastewater Treatment Plant.

After seven years of no sewage rate increases, officials at both cities will implement the increase to make improvements to the 56-year-old facility.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) recently completed an inspection of the plant and determined that it needed capital improvements in order to keep it in operation, City Manager Jordan Stanchina said in January.

Stanchina told Iron Mountain City Council this week that usually 80 percent of the sewer rate goes towards operations and maintenance of the plant and 10 to 20 percent goes toward capital improvements.

Since there hasn’t been a rate increase since 2007, 100 percent of the charge has been going towards operations and maintenance, he said.

Plant Superintendent Gary Lessard has prepared a five-year plan of items that need to be updated. The joint sewage board has also hired a consultant to explore how to finance some of the items that need to be upgraded in the future.

“They have done as much as they can to repair what they have,” Stanchina said. “Things are starting to add up with no rate increase. Our rates are very low and competitive, especially with the rest of the U.P. If anything was the fail there (wastewater plant) it would pollute the river and we’d be fined. The longer you wait to fix things, the more it will cost in the long run,” he said.

Stanchina said that, in addition to no rate increase in the past seven years, the number of gallons being treated has also declined, which means less revenue for the treatment plant.

“The approved increase is just to address the most immediate concerns,” Stanchina told the council in a memo. “There are a number of large ticket items and future concerns that will need to be evaluated.”

No one enjoys paying rate increases, but we believe this one is justified.

The puzzling part is how the cities measure wastewater.

In Kingsford, the increase will be 56 cents per 1,000 gallons, effective July 1.

In Iron Mountain, the increase will be $4.10 per 1,000 cubic feet, which equals 56 cents per 1,000 gallons.

Wouldn’t you think that a plant operated jointly could measure sewage rates the same?

Another area of concern, which the joint sewage board has already addressed, is the timing of rate increases.

The current portion of a water bill going to the wastewater treatment plant is $2 per thousand gallons. That will now go to $2.56. That’s an increase of 28 percent.

“It seems like quite a bit since it hasn’t been increased since 2007,” said Kingsford council member Michael Flaminio. Annual increases of 3 percent over that same period of time would have brought the charge close to what the new rate will be, he said.

The joint sewage treatment board officials said in their discussion that instead of waiting seven years for an increase, smaller more frequent increases may be a better approach in the future.

While we do not enjoy rate increases for the sake of rate increases, this is something that the sewage treatment board and city councils should consider in the future.