By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
Clinton residents face sewer and solid rate hikes that would cost the average residential customer an extra $10 a month as the city of Clinton works its way toward financial solvency for both services.
The proposal to increase sewer rates by 9.5 percent, the solid waste flat fee for all residents to $10.95 per month and the solid waste service fee to $7.45 per month came before Clinton City Council members during their final budget session on Monday.
The information presented to council members also projected rates rising by another 9.5 percent in July 2014 and July 2015 as well as some smaller increases in the following years in order to bring the sewer fund to a financially solvent level by 2019.
The sewer rate increase for this year would add $6.24 to an average residential customer’s bill, making the average bill $71.68 per month.
“I’d have to say the comment’s going to come ‘we can’t afford to flush the toilet anymore,’” Mayor Mark Vulich said.
However, according to Interim City Administrator and Finance Director Jessica Kinser, the city has initiated a number of steps that will hopefully improve the city’s poor collection rate of $6.30 for every $8.18 billed and counteract the need for future rate increases.
These steps include utilizing the income offset program that allows the city to reclaim unpaid bills. So far the city has been able to collect $18,000 to $20,000 of unpaid bills through the income offset program, Kinser said. Monthly billing has also been implemented to decrease delinquent bills.
“I believe we have put things in place where we will see some results,” Kinser said. “Ultimately with those results, we’ll be sitting here in a year looking at what increase we need, if any.”
For right now, Kinser said the city should plan to discuss the 9.5 increase in April in order for it to take effect on June 1.
“Right now we’re still in that phase where we’ve taken action on some things, but the results from those actions are a little bit slow to see,” Kinser said.
Council members also discussed an increase to both the flat fee for solid waste that affects all residents and the flat fee that affects those who utilize the city’s solid waste service. The fee suggestions come as a result of solid waste study performed by public sector advisor Springsted.
“This is not new. Ultimately, we can’t go back,” Kinser said. “The trend that should have been noted was that it was on the decline. That we were getting into negative annual income each year. And that’s pretty much where we got to how we are today. But knowing that’s where we are, now is where we have to figure out how to correct.”
The rate increases are needed to create positive income and pay off previous expenditures. Between operations and equipment the solid waste fund is more than $2 million in the red. Fee increases are expected to bring the operations fund to a positive balance by 2019.
With the monthly $1.70 increase for the all resident flat fee for recycling, yard waste, large item pickup and the per capita fee for the Clinton County Solid Waste Agency and the monthly $2.20 increase for the solid waste service, the total charge for a solid waste customer would be $220.80 annually. These increases are also projected to hit customer’s bills by June 1, although Kinser said the actual date would be up to council discretion.
“This is not going to get to be any better of a financial situation between now and July 1 if there’s not a rate increase done,” Kinser said.
At-large Councilwoman Jennifer Graf asked if outsourcing solid waste services would be a viable option for the city.
“If that’s the direction of the council that this is a service that we cannot provide at rates that are sustainable to the community, then I would say that is definitely something to look at,” Kinser said.
However, that discussion had to wait until council members meet with representative of Springsted, when the full solid waste study is presented at the next council meeting. The council did not vote on any of the rate increases.