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Sewer rate discussion could favor city's customers

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - It's happened in other Bullitt County cities this year, but Shepherdsville may have raised the most stink in regards to sewer rates.

The Shepherdsville City Council discussed sewer rates, bills, collection issues and future plans during a city business meeting. However, no official action was taken.

Council member Faith Portman requested that the issue be brought up again for discussion during the next business meeting. Portman proposed a decreased rate of 7 percent.

Shepherdsville's current sewer rate is $21.15 for a minimum 2,000-gallon usage, with an additional $6.50 added for each 1,000 gallons.

The rate has not increased since the council approved a substantial 66 percent increase in 2011 to even out maintenance costs.

City controller Bob Ryan presented many numbers to the council in the event that the sewer rate situation was discussed.

Based on a 2011 sewer rate study, and including two rate increases since that time, Ryan said the city was still in the hole, so to speak.

According to Ryan, the city saw an increase in funds over the past few years based on the vast increase of tap-on fees. However, those numbers tapered off, leaving the city without the increased income.

"The growth is flat," he said. "There's no sign of significant growth."

Basing sewer operation expenses, deducting loans, fees and depreciation, factoring overhead costs, removing debts and loan fees, Ryan came to his base conclusion.

"The debt is running more than the actual operations," he said. "We haven't reached a break-even point."

Even with suggested Consumer Price Index (CPI) raises implemented, Ryan said the city would still fall short.

Part of the financial hole was a result of bills not paid by sewer customers. Shepherdsville pays Louisville Water Company to collects city sewer bills along with LWC water bills.

City attorney Joe Wantland noted that if a customer paid less than the total fees for water and sewer rates, LWC would keep their share and offer Shepherdsville what was left.

"If we are paying LWC to collect bills, and they aren't collecting, then why are we paying LWC," asked council member Gloria Taft.

Council member Clinton Kline suggested that it was cheaper for LWC to collect bills than it would be for Shepherdsville to do it themselves.

Council member Dana Bischoff-James noted that if Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) took over city sewers, the rates would be much higher for residents than they are with the Shepherdsville plant.

Council member Jose Cubero said it was important to look at the numbers involving bill collections. He said the city needed to determine situations such as foreclosures and to follow up by determining what monies were feasible.

Cubero also said a list of needs for the sewer plant was crucial in determining how much money should be placed aside for both future maintenance and emergency situations.

Resident Steve Larimore believed the city was charging enough in sewer rates but was not collecting enough from customers. He raised concerns about the implementation of carryover money from the previous year's budget.

Portman asked how much was in the emergency fund for the sewer plant. Ryan said $106,000 was the current amount. An amount of $686,000 in the city budget was the "predicted" amount for the fiscal year, according to Ryan.

Larimore believed there was a carryover of $800,000 in the previous budget that should've been implemented directly to sewer maintenance.

Brown and Portman also questioned the amount of the total emergency reserve transfer.

Kline suggested that Ryan determine the actual carryover number and supply it to the council for discussion during the next meeting.

Mayor Scott Ellis stressed responsibility by customers for what is placed into the system. He said removal of various debris cost the city a great amount, which in turn could eventually trickle back down in the form of increased rates.

"Stop flushing towels, diapers and t-shirts," he announced. "It costs thousands of dollars to replace parts."

The next meeting of the Shepherdsville City Council will be on Monday, Nov. 28, at 6:30 p.m. The Nov. 11 meeting date was canceled due to the Veterans Day holiday.

Anyone wishing to speak must sign up prior to the start of the meeting. The public is invited.