Chattanooga residents should expect another 10 percent hike in sewer rates this summer, about a $3 monthly increase.
Public Works Director Lee Norris estimates the average residential monthly fee will rise to $35 a month once the City Council approves Mayor Andy Berke's proposed 2015 budget, which is set to be presented May 27. Norris estimates those fees will continue to increase nearly 10 percent annually for the next two years before a slight taper to pay for federally mandated fixes to the city's 130-year-old sewer system.
When an update on the federal consent degree was presented to City Council this week, council members didn't ask any questions about the rate hike. But Councilman Moses Freeman said he plans to ask for an additional meeting to discuss whether another 10 percent hike is necessary. Last budget cycle, officials raised the rate nearly $3 a month.
"Until we look at the numbers in a more serious way it's unfair for me to say whether that number is enough or too much," Freeman said. "I am concerned about the continuous rise in rates."
Norris said Chattanooga's rate is still significantly lower than several other Southeastern cities operating under federal consent decrees. Knoxville residents pay $62 a month, while Birmingham residents pay $42 a month. Nashville residents pay less than Chattanoogans at about an average $29.75 a month.
In July 2012, federal regulators slapped Chattanooga with a $250 million consent decree, blaming the aging system for the dumping of more than 354 million gallons of raw sewage into the Tennessee River since 2005.
Chattanooga is a year into phase one of the consent decree fixes that focus on the majority of the major projects to improve sewage leaks and water overflow. Officials say 15 percent of those project are complete with 50 projects currently ongoing in this phase. Those projects include a $7.8 million project in East Brained to seal or replace miles of pipes and an upgrade of an existing pump station.
At Tuesday's City Council meeting, officials also approved a new $66.8 million state loan to finance roughly 13 capital projects and various studies. One of the major projects funded through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation loan is at Chattanooga Creek to keep sewage from overflowing and leaking into the creek.
These five years of projects are expected to total $152 million. At the end of that time-frame, the city will reevaluate with the US Environmental Protection Agency to decide what projects are needed over the following next 11 years.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.