Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 23, 2013

Wurtland OKs sewer rate increase

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

WURTLAND — The Wurtland City Commission on Friday approved first reading of an ordinance raising the sewer rates of the city’s industrial customers by 100 percent.

According to Mayor Donna Hayes, the increase will primarily affect five plants — duPont, Pregis, Vesuvius Great Lakes Minerals and Sun Chemical Performance Pigment, which closed last month but is still sending flow to the city’s wastewater treatment facility.

The closing Sun Chemical plant is the reason for the rate increase, and the reason residential customers will see their bills go up in the coming months. The plant was built primarily to handle industrial sewage from Sun Chemical, formerly known as PCI, and the company paid the cost of operating the wastewater treatment facility, as well as for most of its debt service.

According to Mayor Donna Hayes, the city has been advised by its accountant to raise its residential rates by 30 percent. But, she said, officials are hesitant to lock into a figure at this point because there’s a lot of uncertainty over what the cost of operating the plant will be. The facility is just now beginning to process residential waste only, and it could be the end of June before the city has a good idea of just how much money it will take to run it, she said.

The city is in the process of converting the facility into a residential treatment only plant. That mainly involves replacing its 150-horsepower blower with one roughly a third that size, which should cut the plant’s electric bill in half, from about $14,000 a month to less than $7,000, Hayes said.

Additionally, the cost of chemicals to treat household sewage will be substantially less than it was for those necessary to treat waste from the pigment plant, she said.

Hayes said the city was exploring the possibility of raising residential rates by 30, 35 or 40 percent, which she said would generate an additional $4,800, $5,600 and $6,400 a month in revenue, respectively. The plant currently has about 400 residential customers.

While Hayes said she thought a 40 percent increase was probably more than most Wurtland residents could reasonably absorb, she said some type of rate hike was an inevitability.

“If we want to flush in Wurtland, we have to pay for the sewer,” she said.

Hayes said the city hasn’t had a sewer rate increase since 2010. The fact Sun Chemical was covering the operational expenses for the sewer plant meant one hadn’t been necessary.

She said the commission would hold a town hall meeting once officials have a better idea of what the new rates are going to be.

The city also is cutting back on manpower at the plant, eliminating two of the three shifts there and reducing other city employees to 32 hours a week. Earlier this month, the commission also eliminated Wurtland’s police department and laid off the city’s only law-enforcement officer, police Chief Phillip Piercy.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.