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Water bubbles up out of the sewer.


The average Hamilton County resident's sewer bill:

* Now: $23.15 each month, for about 5,000 gallons, plus $8 fee for private lateral line service.

* After increase: $32.15 per month, plus the $8 fee.


• East Ridge

• Red Bank

• Soddy-Daisy

• Signal Mountain

• Lookout Mountain, Tenn.

• Ridgeside

• Lakesite

• Unincorporated areas of Hamilton County

Hamilton County residents will have to brace themselves for one of the largest sewer fee hikes in the local utility's history.

The Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Authority Board members say a nearly 39 percent sewer rate increase passed Wednesday was "unavoidable" in the face of what they say are tens of millions of dollars-worth of federally-mandated sewer system fixes.

"This is something we've tried to put off as long as possible," said WWTA board member Louis Wright. "It's been forced on us. If we don't make these fixes, we get a moratorium."

The increase means that county sewer users will now pay $6.63 per 1,000 gallons, instead of the previous rate of $4.63.

Soddy-Daisy resident John Grace used 4,180 gallons of water last month and paid the WWTA $19.35 for his sewer bill. Under the new rate increase, Grace's bill will jump to $27.71 -- about an additional $100 a year.

"I'm very concerned about it going up," he said. "Fortunately for me I have a good job and I'm secure, but Soddy-Daisy is not an area where people make a lot of money -- many of the people in this area may struggle with a $100 or $150 increase a year."

The WWTA serves users in the unincorporated areas of Hamilton County, East Ridge, Red Bank, Soddy-Daisy, Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain, Tenn., Ridgeside and Lakesite.

Signal Mountain Mayor Bill Lusk was traveling Thursday and said he hasn't examined all the details of the hike, but he's not happy about it.

"I'm disappointed to hear of an increase that significant," he said.

The WWTA has been preparing for the rate increase for months since entering into a voluntary agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to fix its aging sewer systems.

If the WWTA doesn't comply, they could be slapped with a moratorium on new construction or handed a consent decree like the one EPA gave Chattanooga in July. The city is now facing more than $250 million in mandated sewer repairs, and residents there are facing steeper sewer hikes next year as well.

Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville already have been handed down consent decrees from the EPA.

"We're trying to stay ahead of the curve," said WWTA attorney Chris Clem. "We could have a consent decree or a moratorium if we are not making sufficient progress."

In addition to the system overhaul, WWTA will put part of the new revenue toward a new billing system they have had to develop since Tennessee American Water decided to stop its third-party billing services.

"That couldn't have come at a worse time," Clem said. "That will be several million dollars -- but it will be nothing compared to what we have to spend to get our lines and pump stations and grinder stations upgraded and replaced."