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Council to consider new water and sewer rates tied to cost of living index


Proposed water and sewer rate increases would mean both good news and bad news for the county's 28,000 water and sewer customers.

For most customers, the good news is that their water and sewer bills would remain the same -- at least until next year. The news would be even better for the roughly 3,600 customers who use less than 6,000 gallons of water each year: Their bills would go down because the new rates would be tied more closely to actual consumption.

The bad news is that by this time next year, everyone's bills would have increased slightly -- partly to help cover increased operating expenses and partly to pay for a $46 million upgrade of the Sod Run Wastewater Treatment plant in Perryman.

Sod Run is being upgraded to handle more wastewater and to process it more efficiently. Now the plant has a capacity about 12 million gallons a day. Last year, it handled an average of 9.8 million gallons a day -- an increase over 1993, said Jaqueline Ludwig, chief of the water and sewer division for public works.

"At the present rate of flow, the capacity of the plant will be all used up by 1999," Ms. Ludwig said.

When the expansion and upgrade project is completed in late 1997, the plant will be able to handle about 20 million gallons a day and do a better job of processing the waste, she said. The reason, she said, is a process called biological nutrient reduction.

Most of the Sod Run upgrade will be paid for through county fees for new residential and commercial connections, but water and sewer customers must cover $9.1 million of the cost.

To do that, the county wants to charge a small fee for current and future water and sewer customers. For an average customer, that would mean $4 more each year.

While water and sewer rates are not being raised this year, they likely to increase next year, if the County Council agrees. That's because the water and sewer department wants to tie water and sewer bills to the cost of living.

Ms. Ludwig told the council this week that the plan is to use the Consumer Price Index, a measure of how much the cost of goods and services has increased.

She noted that water and sewer rates had not gone up since 1991 and that tying future increases to the cost of living would prevent sharp rises.

Councilman Mitch Shank and Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton questioned the wisdom of taking future rate increases out of the hands of the County Council.

"I have a problem with tying this in" to an economic indicator, Mr. Shank said. "I have a problem with basically turning you all loose and the council not having control."

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