Juneau Council To Consider Sewer Rate Increase

(Juneau) The Juneau Common Council will be voting on an increase in sewer rates at their next meeting in January. The city-owned utility experienced $50-thousand dollars in red ink last year. Mayor Dan Wegener says a six percent increase in the monthly service charge and the total volume charge is needed to get the wastewater fund on solid ground.

Part of the reason for the shortfall, he says, is the increased costs that have come with treating wastewater since the city’s largest industrial user – Sensient – signed a contract two decades ago. Because Sensient uses 40-to-60-percent of the plant, Wegener says it is important to get a new contract as the current document is up at the end of the month. Once a new contract is in place, he says that could lead to a reduction in the costs for residential customers.

No other businesses contract with Juneau and Wegener says the future growth of Sensient is important to determine future chemical needs for the wastewater treatment.

“There is so much up in the air with phosphorous removal and [Sensient] is a big contributor to phosphorus,” Wegener says, “and the DNR has set more stringent requirements as far as phosphorous removal in treatment plants and its just unfortunate that we’re at a point right now that we’re not [breaking even] with what we’re charging them.”

Wegener says the increases have been put off for too long and with the size of some recent utility projects, cash on-hand has been used-up. He says without the increases, the utilities would have to borrow money for future projects.

The most recent wastewater rate increase went into effect in 2017. In addition to the sewer increase, water and electric rates are expected to increase at some point next year. The Utility Commission recently funded a study of all three of the city-owned utilities and it is recommending the hikes. The last water increase was in 2003 while the last electricity increase was a half dozen years ago, and that only targeted usage rates. The upcoming electricity increase would target the base rate, which is projected to increase from $6.50 per month for residential customers to around $10. Wegener says the utility has always fought to keep the fixed costs low but the study determined that the base electricity rate needs to be in double digits.

The water and electric rates are subject to approval by the Public Service Commission, which is expected to take a minimum of six months. The sewer rate requires only approval by the city and is expected to go into effect if adopted by the council next month.