By William C. Singleton III
It’s a messy situation, but it has to be addressed.
Hoover officials are trying to make the case for a possible rate hike to generate more revenue for its two wastewater treatment plants, which service the city’s Riverchase, Inverness and Southlake communities.
So, they took their message to residents during a recent public forum at the Riverchase Country Club. Another meeting will be held July 31, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Spain Park High School.
The two sewer systems serve 4,500 residents and 200 commercial customers in Hoover. Other residents outside Inverness and Riverchase are served by the Jefferson County sewer system. Greystone residents pay for private sewer service.
Hoover officials say they haven’t increased rates in 14 years. But expenses continue to climb. Since 2011, the city hasn’t been able to pay all of the depreciation costs on the system’s assets.
That depreciation cost runs $2.2 million annually, Hoover Chief Financial Officer Melinda Lopez said. The city has been able to pay $1.1 million of that annual depreciation cost. Also, stricter environmental regulations are driving costs up, city officials say.
“Our regulations regarding the discharge from those two plants have significantly increased,” Hoover Chief Operations Officer Tim Westhoven said. “They both discharge into the Cahaba River, one of the most highly sensitive environmental rivers in the United States. It clearly needs to be taken care of, and we’re doing our best to do that … to protect the health and welfare of the city and, of course, the environment.”
A rate hike of $30.53 a month per residential household ($366.36 a year) is needed to bridge the short-fall, officials explained. In addition, city officials say the two sewer systems are going to need $7.2 million in capital improvements over the next five years. “We know at some point, the rates need to increase,” Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato said. “Now that’s either going to be absorbed by the city or it’s going to be absorbed by the citizens who are using the system.”
Brocato said he’s against selling the sewer systems or delegating authority to an independent board. He wants the system to remain in the control of Hoover and the City Council so the city can have the deciding voice on issues such as rate hikes.
Brocato also said city leaders don’t have an immediate timetable for settling the issue.
Riverchase resident Donna McDowell asked city leaders to reach a decision as soon as possible so residents can plan accordingly.
“People are going to want to know answers for questions like, ‘When is it going to impact me?’ and ‘When am I going to see the financial hit,’ because if your sewer rate doubles, maybe you need to cut back somewhere else in your budget,” she said. “We need to know that.”
David Naefe, a Riverchase resident for 30 years, said when the city first acquired the sewer system, it was supposed to be a catalyst for economic development in the Riverchase area and was supposed to be supported through revenue generated from the Riverchase Galleria and other businesses.
“The sewer system was not profitable; it was break-even then. It was never supposed to be,” Naefe said. “The city was expected to cover it.”
Other residents said they understood the need for the increase and asked that city leaders consider the effect a rate hike would have on residents who live on fixed incomes.