September 26, 2002

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Sewer rate hike proposed

For the second time in a year, Village Council last week took the first step toward implementing new sanitary sewer rates.

The action is needed because a rate structure approved by Council last year was not fully implemented by the Village, due to what Village Manager Rob Hillard described as "human error."

The proposed rate structure is similar to last year's structure, though rates would increase at a slightly more aggressive rate.

The proposal essentially recalibrates last year's structure, which was spread out over five years, into a four-year schedule.

Because last year's rate increase was not fully implemented, the Village lost approximately $42,000 in revenue, Hillard said. However, over the next four years the Village expects to make up the lost revenue thanks to the new rates, he said.

At its meeting Sept. 16, Council approved 4­0 the first reading of a proposal to increase the rates. Council member George Pitstick was not at the meeting. A second reading and public hearing on the new rates will be held at Council's meeting Oct. 7.

The new structure includes a consumption charge and a readiness-for-service (RFS) charge. The RFS charge covers the cost of running the sanitary sewer, including billing services and Village personnel, and a charge for the first 1,000 gallons used per customer.

Under the proposal, the consumption charge, assessed for every 1,000 gallons of water a customer uses, would stay at its current rate, $4.62, until next August, when it would increase to $4.98. The consumption rate would rise to $5.34 in 2004 and $5.70 in 2005.

(Under the schedule approved last year, the consumption charge should have increased from $4.62 to $4.92 in August 2002, $5.17 in 2003, $5.41 in 2004 and $5.70 in 2005.)

The Village plans to keep what is called a base RFS charge at its current level of $10 over the next year. The RFS charge would then increase to $10.60 in August 2003, $11.20 in 2004 and $11.80 in 2005.

(Under the schedule approved last year, the base RFS charge should have increased from $10 to $10.50 in August 2002. It would have then risen slightly over the next three years and capped out at $11.80 in 2005.)

Last month, the Village did implement part of last year's structure, an RFS multiplier charge, which is based on the size of a customer's water meter, Village Manager Rob Hillard said Tuesday. The charge was included on Village utility customers' September bills, he said.

This new charge, which is also used as part of the Village's water rate structure, significantly changed the way the Village calculates its sewer bills.

The Village did not implement this multiplier charge a year ago when the sewer rates were increased. Because of this, the Village did not receive as much in sewer revenue as it had expected. Hillard said he became aware of the problem last month.

The RFS multiplier charge does not affect most residential customers when compared to customers who use large amounts of water. Most of those large users are businesses, Hillard said.

For example, residential customers with small meters (five-eighths inch or three-quarters inch) pay a $10 a month charge. Customers with a 1-inch meter must pay $20 a month charge, those with 2-inch meters pay $70 a month and customers with a 3-inch meter, the largest meter, pay $280 a month.

According to information provided by the Village last year, the Village has 1,674 residential customers, 22 customers with 1-inch water meters, 27 with 2-inch meters, eight with 3-inch meters and two customers with 4-inch meters.

Hillard blamed the problem with implementing last year's rate structure on "human error," and implied that it originated in the Village Utility Billing Department, which he said was "the primary department in charge" of utility billing.

Marilyn Berryman, head of the billing department, said the rate structure was not programmed correctly into the Village's computer billing program.

Hillard would not say who was at fault, although he said he responded to the situation by following disciplinary steps laid out in the Village personnel policy manual. He would not say what steps he took. "Because this is a personnel issue, I am uncomfortable talking about specific actions but I did follow the personnel manual," he said.

He also said no one was fired because of the problem.

Berryman said it was not necessary "to name names" in this situation.

-Robert Mihalek