Welcome to a new era of sanitary sewer public improvements, Independence.

Welcome to a new era of sanitary sewer public improvements, Independence.

The changes will come with a price tag, though, and most are state and federal mandates with which the city’s Water Pollution Control Department must comply. Residential and small commercial customers are projected to experience a new regulatory compliance charge of $3 per monthly bill beginning Aug. 1, pending the Independence City Council’s approval in June.

The $3 charge per bill would remain in effect until the 2012-13 and 2013-14 fiscal years when it will increase to $6 per monthly bill. That compliance charge will then increase to $9 per monthly bill in 2014-15.

Water Pollution Control, which includes the sanitary sewer and storm water components, presented its proposed 2010-11 budget before the Independence City Council during a nearly two-hour study session Monday night. The city of Independence spent more than a year studying its sanitary sewer rates before proposing rate increases, according to Dick Champion, city of Independence Water Pollution Control director.

In April 2009, the city reached an agreement with Region 7 of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice to make improvements to its sanitary sewer system. The agreement included a penalty of $255,000 to the justice department and spending an additional $450,000 on separate environmental projects unrelated to the sewer system.

Federal requirements include peak flow storage and conveyance; sewer capacity improvements; and sewer survey and semiannual reports. State of Missouri requirements include ammonia nitrogen reduction; disinfection; and an antidegradation study. (Antidegradation is a policy designed to prevent deterioration of existing levels of good water quality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.)

These federal and state requirements total more than $57 million. The proposed capital projects will be debt financed during the next five to seven years “to take a tough pressure off our rate payers,” Champion said.

Customers also can expect an increase in their sanitary sewer base rates starting in the 2011-12 fiscal year. This increase, according to city staff, would fund the city’s ongoing expenses with operating and managing a facility that is more than three decades old, including retrofitting improvements.

The base rate increases will take place in years opposite the regulatory compliance charge increases. The base rate will increase from $9.60 to $10.60 per monthly bill in 2011-12. That rate will then increase $1 per bill to $11.60 in fiscal year 2013-14. 

“We believe it’s better to break it out than to bury it all in one bill,” City Manager Robert Heacock said, adding that separating the base rate and regulatory compliance charge expenses allows customers to see more effectively where their dollars will go.

The city of Independence owns and operates the Rock Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, located at 9600 Norledge St., but it also is a member of the Little Blue Valley Sewer District. The Little Blue Valley Sewer District is proposing a 6 percent increase in its rates, Champion said, but those separate rate increases have yet to be finalized.

Average sanitary sewer bill/rate comparison

Utility                 Average monthly bill
Belton, Mo.          $47.06
Liberty, Mo.          $37.79
Raytown, Mo.       $35.31
Raymore, Mo.       $34.84
Jackson County    $31.66
Lee’s Summit       $31.48
Olathe, Kan.         $27.29
Kansas City, Kan.    $24.61
Blue Springs         $23.95
Sugar Creek         $23.49
Independence      $22.52
(Proposed increase would change average to $25.90, starting Aug. 1.)
Kansas City    $21.45*
Grandview, Mo.     $18.78

*This figure reflects the amount as of February 2010. Kansas City’s sewer customers are expected to experience a 15 percent rate increase over the next several years.