Cleveland Council approves 5 percent sewer rate increase

Cleveland Council approves 5 percent sewer rate increase

February 13th, 2013 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Ken Webb

Ken Webb

Janice Casteel

Janice Casteel

Cleveland, Tennessee, Police Chief Wes Snyder

Cleveland, Tennessee, Police Chief Wes Snyder

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A 5 percent increase in Cleveland Utilities' sewer rates effective in July will allow the utility to take advantage of a $10 million state loan package that includes $451,022 in loan forgiveness, a company official said.

"That's essentially a $451,000 grant," said Ken Webb, vice president of the utility's financial division.

The increase is part of a long-term program to protect the environment from wastewater overflows.

The Cleveland City Council voted 7-0 this week to approve the increase now instead of waiting until later in the budgetary process. Acting now, utility officials said, could mean a savings of $451,022.

The 5 percent increase, a requirement for the loan package, will affect the average residential customer by a few dollars. The average monthly bill of $26.41 would rise to $27.73, utility officials said.

The state requirement to increase sewer rates by 5 percent comes instead of Cleveland Utilities' earlier plan to increase sewer rates by 4.5 percent for the next five years.

The increase will fund a comprehensive program to repair the aging wastewater infrastructure, said Tom Wheeler, president of Cleveland Utilities.

If Cleveland Utilities fails to implement a successful environmentally sound program, it could face mandatory rate increases by order of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

City leaders also discussed personnel needs of the Cleveland Police Department.

"Today you are at 1999 staffing levels," police Chief Wes Snyder said. "What you have working the street today is the same that you had in 1999 as far as certified gun-carrying police officers."

The police department has 84 sworn officers, Snyder said. The department had 92 officers in 2006 and 88 in 2009, he said.

U.S. census data indicate Cleveland's current population is about 42,000. Census figures from 2000 estimated the city's population then at 37,000.

Four positions are frozen, Snyder said. A number of temporary positions funded through federal grants were not renewed when their grant money ended.

The first-year cost for a new police officer -- including a base salary of $32,000, benefits, training and equipment -- is $105,000, Snyder said. That figure drops to $59,000 in salary and benefits in a second year.

It will be difficult under the city's budget -- already stretched thin -- to add personnel without an increase in revenues, City Manager Janice Casteel said.

Cleveland's finances will be affected further by the end of its $911,000 contract to provide fire protection to portions of Bradley County surrounding the city limits, she said. Bradley County Fire & Rescue will begin covering those areas on July 1.

"What the public needs and wants, first and foremost, is safety in their homes," Councilman Richard Banks said. "We're going to have to make some tough decisions."

Officials announced that a budget retreat will be held March 25 at the city municipal building.