Blaine staff recommending no utility rates increases for coming year

Blaine city staff is recommending no rate increases for city and sewer water customers in 2013.

This would be significant news for almost every Blaine resident considering approximately 95 percent have city sewer and water, according to city data. The Blaine City Council will approve the 2013 rates at its Dec. 20 meeting.

The council during a Dec. 6 workshop meeting heard a presentation from Finance Director Joe Huss and Public Services Manager Bob Therres on the city’s sanitary sewer and water funds.

According to Huss, the sale of water in 2012 is on pace to exceed $3.88 million, which is higher than previous summers. Summer is the season of high water usage when people are trying to keep their lawns green, and it was a dry year.

“We pumped a lot of water and sold a lot of water this summer,” Huss said.

Nevertheless, the city will still be conservative in its revenue projections in case there is more rain next year.

“We don’t like to budget for these extreme years because it’s doubtful that that’s going to continue,” Huss said.

Sanitary sewer

Blaine charges each single-family homeowner $44.70 per quarter for sanitary sewer service unless they are a senior citizen in which case they pay $22.35 per quarter.

The sanitary sewer budget revenue is also adequate enough to not require an increase in rates for 2013, although Huss said an increase may be required in the next couple of years depending on what the Metropolitan Environmental Services (MCES) charges the city for the collection, treatment and disposal of wastewater coming from Blaine residents.

MCES’s bill to the city will be increasing by 12 percent to $2,927,664 in 2013, according to Huss. This is Blaine’s largest sanitary sewer fund expenditure by far because Blaine and other cities pay MCES to operate the sewer system. The next closest projected expenditure for 2013 is $900,000 for depreciation.

Huss said MCES’ charge has stayed “reasonable” over the last three years.The charge actually dropped in 2012, he said.

Huss said there is not a good explanation as to why Blaine is taking a such a big hit in 2013.

“Blaine’s flow through the system did not increase as dramatically as the 12 percent increase,” Huss said.

The proposed 2013 sanitary sewer capital budget includes $2.6 million in improvements. Examples of some of the largest projects are the sewer main slip-lining program for $1.8 million and $680,000 for lift station rehabilitation and improvements.

Water

Blaine charges residential customers $5.50 per quarter plus an additional fee per 1,000 gallons based on their water usage tier. If the home uses up to 24,000 gallons of water per quarter, the fee is $1.06 per 1,000 gallons. The charge increases to $1.43 per 1,000 gallons if they use over 24,000 gallons per quarter. If the home uses over 150,000 gallons of water during a quarterly billing period, the fee is $2.10 per 1,000 gallons.

Therres said even though Blaine had higher water usage, it was consistent at about 15 million to 16 million gallons a day. Blaine would become concerned if the city starts consistently spiking around 18 million gallons of water pumped a day because that would hinder the city’s ability to keep the water towers full enough to fight fires.

Councilmember Dick Swanson said people have told him how good the water quality is compared with what it has been. He credits the water treatment plants for this.

Blaine has three water treatment plants. The newest one was put online in 2008.

Capital expenditures in the water utility fund are projected to be $2.2 million in 2013. About $1 million will be for the construction of wells No. 18 and No. 19. Another $1 million will be spent on that project in 2014. Reconditioning of water tower No. 3 on Hamline Avenue for $300,000 and various other capital projects such as trunk oversizing and well repairs are just some examples of projects.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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