Helena sewer rate increase to begin Oct. 1

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

HELENA—Helena residents will soon notice an increase in their monthly utilities costs due to a sewer rate increase approved by the Helena Utility Board during an Aug. 20 meeting.

The Helena Utility Board approved a $1.50 increase in basic sewer costs, raising the cost for the baseline minimum of 2,000 gallons of water from $15 to $16.50. The board also passed at $1 increase for every 1,000 gallons of water used over the initial 2,000 gallons, raising that cost to $2.98 for every additional 1,000 gallons. This sewer rate increase will go into effect on Oct. 1.

The increase was based off of a rate study done by Montgomery-based Jackson Thornton Utilities Consultants. Jim Marshall, a senior manager and utilities consultant at the firm, presented the findings of the study during the Aug. 20 meeting.

The study looked at water and sewer data from the 2013 fiscal year. While water “is in pretty good shape,” sewer service is currently losing money for the city, and lost more than $1.3 million during the 2013 fiscal year, Marshall explained.

“Our revenue has dropped significantly over the past few years and our expenses have increased significantly,” Helena Mayor Mark Hall said.

Sewer service costs Helena around $2.57 million each year, this is in part due to government sanctioned water treatment requirements due to Helena’s location in the Cahaba River Basin.

“We have more strict guidelines, our permits are twice as restrictive to us,” Hall explained, but he stressed the importance of meeting guidelines in order to protect the environment. “We are not going to be the people that neglected to take care of our waterways,” he said.

According to the rate study, Helena is currently recovering roughly 51 percent of the costs of sewer service, the new sewer rates will increase this to 64 percent cost recovery.

“Getting to 64 percent is not the end game,” Marshall said, noting a five-year rate increase plan. “It’s a matter of keeping the customer in mind because that’s who you’re here to serve, but it also costs money to provide proper service.”

Hall echoed Marshall, stating the city “wanted to do a small hit this year,” but added there is the possibility of growth and new customers generating additional revenue, such as the new high school, and said the city will evaluate the situation again in a year

“We play catch up all the time, and it’s gotten to the point we can’t play catch-up anymore,” Hall said of the sewer rate increase, but added “we’re focusing on the positive hopefuls.”