City sewer, wastewater fee hike now official

1 month ago Fremont Tribune

An increase in Fremont sewer and wastewater utility fees was made official on Tuesday, Feb. 14, after the Fremont City Council approved a second and final reading of the measure. The council had previously OK’d raising rates on Jan. 31.

Under the changes, residential and commercial customers of Fremont’s municipal sanitary system will pay a bit more money each month for sewer and wastewater. The Fremont City Council unanimously approved over two meetings – on Jan. 31 and Feb. 14—a two-year phased in rate hike for municipal sanitary system users.

The second reading and vote on the rate hike was – like it was on Jan. 31 – met with anger, explanations and criticism by numerous residents and council members.

Ward 1 Council Member Paul Von Behren said while he knows residents are struggling with rising costs of living, the wastewater treatment facility needed upgrades sooner than later.

“This bothers me, these rate increases with people struggling. There are literally people trying to figure out (finances). This was a difficult (issue) for me,” Von Behren said. “Bottom line to me is, this would not have been an easy decision. But we had an opportunity to expand the system for the future with somebody paying 40% of the cost. The one thing I would suggest with this rate increase, is that we took into the account the burden the people of the city feel. As we go into the budget process next year, we should look at taking the people’s struggles into consideration. I truly believe the city should not live better than the people. Limit ourselves as we need to. As far as this decision, I have to (vote yes).”

Resident Larry Marvin asked what role the Union Pacific railroad might play in the raising of rates, noting that many trains carrying coal sit on the track which he claim could be causing extra costs to the city, which are then transmitted – he believed – to residents via other utility rate hikes.

“You have to sometimes get things moving. In business, each railroad car is owned by the utility, by the railroad or by a private investor. If someone is deliberately screwing around and getting more days pay, then (the city) wants a 10% raise (in rates)…maybe we only need a 3% raise? Are we picking up the phone and saying, ‘get the (train) cars (moving),” Marvin told the council. “I think you need to pay attention to the workers and the railroad, and have accountability. I think there was a little bit not tending to business, and now we’re getting a 10% raise.”

Among those irritated by the decision were former City Council Member Susan Jacobus. Echoing her comments about the rate hike during the Jan. 31 council meeting, Jacobus said the fee raise is unfair to senior citizens and others on fixed incomes.

Jacobus passionately lobbied for residents, notably senior citizens on fixed incomes, who would struggle to pay for the sewer and wastewater bill increase. She again made allegations that the rate hike was rushed and not properly devised, causing an undue burden, in her opinion, on residents as opposed to large commercial users such as Wholestone Farms or Lincoln Premium Poultry.

“I’m going to parrot what I said before. We’ve added some large commercial businesses, which is good. When this came before us, Lincoln Premium Poultry and the expansion Wholestone, we knew that we were going to have to expand our waste treatment and put in a new digester and add lagoons. There was a lot opposition to that and we knew there would be expense coming with that and the bonds would have to be issued,” Jacobus said.

“That said, what is the benefit to us? The taxes have gone up. You have increased the metering rates over the years, based on this same person’s analysis… the water meters, the electric meters, the gas meters…now you are asking an increase for the waste metering on residential (customers). Some of you are at retirement age and on a fixed income. This doesn’t sound like much, but when you take into the other increases, it is a hard sell. We can’t adjust (waste) metering costs. You’ve added roughly $10 a month in (utility fees). It starts to add up quickly. People are struggling now with groceries. It is heart-wrenching to see this happen. I think this is an unfair burden on the taxpayer yet again, and you’re going to slide this through with a head nod without any other thought because maybe it is not hitting your pocket book.”

After Jacobus sat down, Ward 4 Council Member Sally Ganem said she understood Jacobus’ worries and concerns for those residents on fixed incomes, but added that the city has lower utility rates than many cities across the Midwest.

“I think we do make an effort to keep our rates low, and we are so fortunate in Fremont. Citizens talk to me about the cost for everything rising; that is the same for utilities,” Ganem noted. “Looking at the numbers and what is equitable, we have a loan to pay back. We all have to share (in the cost), and I’m not sure there is a more equitable way to do that than all (users) pay a little.”

City Council President Mark Jensen then shouted his comments directed at Jacobus by her name.

“I just want to challenge Ms. Jacobus actions that we’re just head bobbing. I don’t know what you’re running for Sue; that is not right. It is also not right you said 10% for residential, it is 10% for everybody,” Jensen said. “It is also not true that we did not bring all this stuff on line simply for the Wholestones (Farms) and Costcos. The standards were changing and we had to do that work. Thank God we got Costco to share this cost.”

According to city documents, the rate hike begins in April 2023, with residential homes being charged $2.20 per month more for the service in year one of the rate increase. In year two of the increase, the bill will go up by $2.42 more per month starting in April 2024. For commercial class customers, the rate hike is also 10%.

The new rates go into effect as of April 1, 2023, and will cause varying increases for customers depending on the type and size of meter they have as well as the volume expelled. The rates vary for in-city limits customers and out-of city limits customers, as well as between residential and commercial users.

According to Jeff Shanahan, utilities manager for the City of Fremont, the rate hikes are part of efforts to repay bonds used for prior upgrades, repairs, renovations and expansions of the city’s municipal sanitary system.

The city council has OK’d a series of upgrades to the facility since 2020 that necessitated the rate increase, he noted. Those upgrades are associated with new ‘lagoons’ where wastewater is stored to be treated from Lincoln Premium Poultry and WholeStone Farms. There were also at the time new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements on ammonia limits.











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