Sewage rates are set to increase by 39 percent in Lookout Mountain, Tenn., because the Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Authority is levying increases on all its member cities in the face of federally mandated sewer system fixes.
The increase also will affect Tennesseans in East Ridge, Red Bank, Signal Mountain, Ridgeside, Lakesite, unincorporated Hamilton County and Soddy-Daisy.
Newspaper accounts of the rate hike worried city officials on the Georgia side of Lookout Mountain, because its sewage also is piped to Moccasin Bend.
That's one reason the Lookout Mountain, Ga., City Council on Monday proposed a $230 annual service fee for each of its 632 customers. The fee also would fund upgrades to the town's sewage collection system.
But Georgia residents in Catoosa, Walker and Dade counties shouldn't see the cost of sending sewage to Moccasin Bend soar when Chattanooga addresses $250 million in sewer repairs required under an agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, according to Jerry Stewart, Chattanooga's director of waste resources.
"They won't have to pay for fixing our sewer lines," Stewart said.
Part of Chattanooga's problem is old, cracked sewer lines that allow stormwater to mix with sewage.
The price cities have to pay for sewage treatment at the regional plant increased 5 percent when the City Council set the rate in July. The increase raised the cost from $1.18 per 1,000 gallons to $1.24 per 1,000 gallons, Stewart said. He doesn't expect a large increase when the city revisits the rate next summer.
Told that the cost of treatment at Moccasin Bend isn't slated to soar, Lookout Mountain, Ga., City Councilman Jim Sabourin said that -- if that's the case -- the city would scale back the proposed rate hike.
"We've heard it's going to be in the neighborhood of a 38 percent increase, but that has yet to be determined," Sabourin wrote in an email. "The bottom line is if we learn they're not going to increase our rates by as much as we've been led to believe, we'll lower the amount we're asking of our residents."
Meanwhile, the Walker County Water & Sewerage Authority probably won't pass along the 5 percent increase from Moccasin Bend, County Coordinator David Ashburn said. Chattanooga typically increases the cost to treat sewage by 3 to 5 percent annually, he said.
"The board has not passed on any increases in ... seven years," Ashburn said. "We've absorbed the rate increases."
With rates starting at a combined $16 per month for water and sewage, Ashburn said, "We have the lowest water and sewer rate in Georgia."
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.