WHAT IS THE CURRENT MONTHLY SEWER CHARGE FOR A SINGLE-FAMILY RESIDENCE?
Single family residences are charged for one equivalent dwelling unit (EDU) for sewer services. As of July 1, 2022, the monthly sewer charge for one EDU is $143.07. The City bills services on a bi-monthly basis.,
Multi-family residential units, commercial and other non-residential users are billed based on the number of EDU's determined by the type or size of the specific class of connection to the sewer system.
HOW MUCH DOES THE CITY COLLECT EVERY YEAR IN SEWER SYSTEM CHARGES?
At present the City collects $2.3 million on approximately 1,245 EDUs throughout the system.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST THE CITY TO RUN THE WASTE WATER TREATMENT PLANT (WWTP) AND CITY-WIDE SEWER COLLECTION SYSTEM ON A MONTHLY BASIS?
Aside from the WWTP, the City maintains 11 miles of sewer lines, and maintains and operates five lift stations to move waste material through the system to the plant. It costs approximately $125,000 per month to keep all of that working, which doesn’t include annual capital improvement expenditures or debt payments on the outstanding loan from the State.
WHY DO SEWER RATES GO UP 2.45% EVERY YEAR?
At the Council’s discretion the rates are raised to keep pace with operating costs, and to build and maintain reserves for emergencies and to finance ongoing maintenance. A sewer rate study was completed in 2018 which established the 2.45% escalation rate for five years.
WHY ARE ALL CITY HALL SALARIES TIED TO THE SEWER ENTERPRISE FUND, AND ISN'T THAT ILLEGAL?
Under State Law, the operation of a municipal sewer service is considered an ‘Enterprise’ activity, meaning that it must be treated as an independent business that must pay its own way. Like any business, the sewer system doesn’t run itself and requires operational and administrative support – plant operators and maintenance personnel, customer service, billing, state and federal licensing and reporting, budgeting, etc. Rather than hire a completely separate operational and administration staff for the sewer operations, Colfax legally uses City employees and administration staff to do the work instead.
All City staff and contracted services that do the City’s work are paid based on their estimated support to all City funds by allocating monies from those funds. The sewer system is the City’s largest asset and also its largest liability. As such, it requires an immense amount of support from all City staff, not just those City employees working at the WWTP.
CAN SOME OF THE ADMINISTRATION COSTS BE PAID FROM OTHER FUNDS, AND IF SO, HOW WOULD THAT AFFECT THE REST OF THE CITY BUDGET?
State law restricts covering sewer system operational and administration costs with general tax funds because that would be considered subsidizing a separate business that does not necessarily benefit the City residents and property owners who are on septic systems or own undeveloped property.
HOW MUCH DOES THE CITY STILL OWE ON THE STATE LOAN THAT WAS NEEDED TO UPGRADE THE WWTP IN 2009, HOW MUCH DOES THE CITY PAY EACH YEAR TO RETIRE THAT LOAN, AND HOW MUCH LONGER WILL THE CITY BE PAYING OFF THE LOAN?
As of June 30, 2022, the principal balance on the state loan stands at $6.8 million. The City is paying the loan off with annual payments of $439,000. The debt will be retired in October 2038.
The loan has been refinanced with the State two times, with the State providing additional grant funding for expansion projects. The current interest rate is only 1% - and the State has indicated they cannot go any lower.
Other factors working against lowering our sewer rates include: as a community Colfax has limited potential for growth that would bring in more ratepayer money; the State mandates the City maintain a reserve balance of $439,000 a year's loan payment); the Federal Government requires that we set aside $35,000 every year for short-lived assets; and the City Council has mandated an annual 17% of annual expenditures operating reserve fund that now stands at $300,000.
HAS THE CITY EVER DONE ANYTHING TO ATTEMPT TO LOWER SEWER RATES?
Recommended changes and updates to WWTP and collection system procedures have resulted in lowering some costs, such as those for all of the various chemicals the plant requires. But we have also needed to spend more money on sewer system maintenance that was postponed in past leaner economic years, as well as planning for future capital improvements that can't be ignored.
The City has received grant funding from the State Water Resource Control Board to install solar power at the WWTP, install new filtration equipment, and perform extensive repair on the inflow and infiltration system throughout the City. It is anticipated that the project will be 100% grant funded in the amount of $11m. This project will lower power costs for the WWTP for the future and provide new equipment with grant funding to lower our required capital expenditures.
The City is also currently getting ready to begin a new Sewer Rate Study to see if and where any restructuring of rates might be possible.
Timeline: Bid Release - February 1, 2023 Contract Award - April 12, 2023 Rate Study Wrap-Up - August 31, 2023 (Estimate)
DO CITY PAYMENTS FOR PREVIOUS LAWSUITS RELATED TO THE WWTP COME OUT OF THE SEWER ENTERPRISE FUND?
The payments for the lawsuits and excess insurance premiums did come out of the sewer enterprise fund.
WHAT CAN INDIVIDUAL RATE PAYERS DO TO HELP REDUCE SEWER COSTS?
Stop using your toilet as a universal disposal. Everything that gets flushed down a toilet eventually has to be extracted during the treatment process at the WWTP. The plant is designed to remove human waste, and everything else that gets flushed – pharmaceuticals, food waste, cooking oil, etc. – extends the treatment process and increases maintenance and attendant labor costs not just at the plant but throughout the entire system, all of which drives operation costs higher. Additionally, users can disconnect any drains from the sewer that are not considered sewer waste. For example: roof gutter downspouts should not be connected to the sewer drain.