Calera residents’ sewer rates to remain unchanged

About 50 Calera residents who feared their sewer rates would soon increase, breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday night at a public hearing in Calera City Hall.

Mayor George Roy opened the hearing announcing that the city would dedicate a half cent of the city’s 3-cent sales tax to pay for a proposed $8 million sewer project. The project is

expected to more than double the city’s capacity.

&uot;There will be no increase in your rates,&uot; Roy said. &uot;I have approval from the council to pledge a half cent (of the sales tax) toward the cost. The whole thing in a nutshell means we are not passing it on to you.&uot;

Roy then questioned, &uot;Are you in shock?&uot; to a stunned audience.

The city’s decision means Calera residents will see no change in their monthly bills. Residents currently pay $3 per 1,000 gallons used with a minimum monthly bill of $5.

Before Roy’s announcement, rates were scheduled to rise to $4 per 1,000 gallons used with a minimum monthly bill of $10. The rate hikes would have only effected those residents, about 70 percent according to Roy, who are hooked on to the city’s sewer system.

Residents’ monthly bills, which now average about $20 according to city engineer Ben Carr, would have increased to about $30 based on an average of 5,400 gallons used. Non-residential bills would have substantially increased as well.

The city sent out letters about three weeks ago informing the public of the proposed change and the public hearing.

An area of confusion from that letter was whether the city’s impact and tap-on fees would be effected.

Roy said the city’s $1,250 tap-on fee and the $750 impact fee, in place for more than a year and a half, would not change.

He stressed to the audience Monday night that if they were on the city’s sewer, they had already paid those fees. The fees, he said, were only for new customers to the city’s sewer.

The sewer project will expand the city’s sewer to prepare for &uot;new growth,&uot; Roy said. He said he expects the city’s population of about 3,200 residents to double in 10 years.

Roy said the project is vital to the city’s future.

&uot;We want to see the growth continue. It has brought us good things like the new subdivisions, Sysco and Wal-Mart,&uot; he said.

That growth will no doubt continue. One subdivision in Calera, Waterford, located on Highway 70 is slated for more than 900 homes in the coming years.

The sewer expansion, the city’s first in more than 20 years, is being financed through a

loan of $4.6 million from the Rural Utility Service in Tuscaloosa, a department of the United States Department of Agriculture. The loan’s interest rate is 4.75 percent.

The city would also receive a grant, from RUS, in the amount of $3.4 million.

Roy called the RUS proposal a &uot;great deal,&uot; saying he had never heard of a larger grant for a city of Calera’s size.

&uot;They know we have a great track record,&uot; he said.

Carr said the money would pay to double the capacity of the city’s wastewater facility from 750,000 gallons a day to 1.5 million gallons a day.

The facility, located on 22nd Street, currently feeds into Buxahatchee Creek, which, Carr said, can only accept 1.5 million gallons a day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Carr said the second phase of the project would be to reduce water infiltration, from storm runoff and other sources which feed into the sewer.

The third phase of the project, he said, would be to add another wastewater facility, with a 3 million gallon capacity, on the north end of the city. That facility would feed into Camp Branch Creek near Shelby County highways 42 and 70.

Roy said the city’s increase in sales taxes during the last year, about $100,000 more a month since Wal-Mart and other businesses have opened, allows for more flexibility in financial decisions.

Calera, Carr said, will be responsible for an annual payment of $258,000 during the next 40 years to pay for the project. The half cent of sales tax designated for the project will generate some $50,000 per month