Officials say expensive upgrades needed at city’s wastewater treatment plant
Graham residents could be facing a 52 percent increase in their monthly water and sewer bills – and soon.
APRIL 21 UPDATE: Graham officials insisted Thursday night (April 21) that The Alamance News has overstated the impact of the manager’s planned increases. An earlier headline stated that 50 percent increases were being recommended, which the newspaper extrapolated from figures in the city manager’s proposed budget for the water and sewer department.
During a continuation of their April 12 meeting, held tonight, examples were given that put the increases at approximately 17 percent for water and almost 25 percent for sewer.
Mayor Jennifer Talley also passed out a chart showing monthly water and wastewater charges for residential customers, put together by the Hazen engineering firm that is handling the preparation for the wastewater treatment plant improvements, showing that Graham’s average rate for water users of 5,000 gallons of water, $61.91 (among the 10 lowest of 30 other municipalities), is projected to rise to $81.60, an increase of almost 32 percent, a monthly price which is at about the mid-point of the towns and cities included on Hazen’s survey.
The city was recently unable to open sealed bids for the wastewater treatment plant construction because only two bids were received, mayor Talley explained in an interview after the meeting; state law requires three bids, she explained, so the city is planning to re-bid the project.
She has previously stated, and repeated during the meeting Thursday night, that the city had anticipated the wastewater treatment plant improvements would cost around $30-$32 million, but has been told by the engineer that the price tag could hit $70 million.
It is for that contingency that the city believes there is an urgency to raise the water and sewer rates and do so earlier than the start of the fiscal year, which is July 1. City manager Megan Garner’s recommendation is that her recommended higher rates should take effect May 1.
The city council will meet again Monday night, April 25, at 6:00, specifically to consider the city manager’s proposed budget for the water and sewer fund and to consider the recommended rate hikes, which Garner is recommending to take effect the following week.
Graham city manager Megan Garner this week gave city council members a copy of her proposed budget for the 2022-2023, asking the council to hold a public hearing on April 25 and adopt her proposed rate hikes to be effective May 1.
Traditionally, budgets take effect at the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1.
But Garner said the council needs to consider and adopt it early. She and assistant city manager Aaron Holland said that the city is trying to apply for and obtain various grants, at least one of which requires that the rates be set.
“The adoption of the revised fee schedule positions [Graham] to take advantage of the infrastructure funding that is currently inundating state funding sources,” Garner says in her cover letter submitting the water and sewer fund budget to the city council. (The water and sewer fund are separate from the general fund, which covers most city services – i.e., fire, police, recreation, streets, public works, etc. Garner has not yet released her proposed “general fund” budget for the upcoming fiscal year; her proposed budget for the water/sewer fund totals $11.9 million for 2022-23.)
Garner says that Graham “is at a critical point in funding much needed upgrades and projects throughout our utility system.”
She stresses that the water and sewer fund is “capital intensive, requiring constant maintenance, replacement, and upgrading.”
In particular, Garner points to an upcoming “upgrade of our wastewater treatment plant.”
While the city had previously adopted rate increases to help pay for anticipated water and sewer improvements, including those at the wastewater treatment plant, Garner says that due to “recent skyrocketing of construction and material prices, the already significant cost to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant has grown exponentially.”
The budget includes a $1.4 million increase to “cover loan fees associated” with the wastewater treatment plant upgrade, according to Garner.
See editorial on this subject, “Something’s wrong in Graham city government”: https://alamancenews.com/somethings-wrong-in-graham-city-government/