Danville engineer addresses continued sewer bill concerns in Perryville

 

Perryville water customers are still frustrated and angry that their water bills increased significantly and without warning in December of 2017. They also want to know why their sewer/wastewater bills are so much more expensive than bills for customers in Danville.

Danville City Engineer Earl Coffey told the Perryville City Council Thursday night that his department has heard many complaints that water rates are arbitrarily increased for Perryville and Junction City water customers. “That’s just factually not true,” Coffey said.

When Danville took over the water utilities at Junction and Perryville in 2004, what was “agreed at the time, that forever, whatever drinking water rate happened in Danville or Perryville, would be the same, penny for penny. … So if a 10% increase in Danville is $1, it’s not 10% in Perryville. It’s a dollar. It’s exactly the same, penny for penny.”

“Wastewater is way more complicated (than water delivery) and not as clean … no pun intended. This is the biggest problem in Perryville,” Coffey said.

Danville’s wastewater treatment plant serves more than 8,000 customers, while Perryville’s serves only about 450, Coffey said. “Those customers bear all the expense tied to that wastewater plant. That’s why their rates are different and higher.”

In 2004, Perryville’s operating budget for its wastewater system was $95,481. In 2018, the operating budget was more than $166,000, Coffey said, which was a nearly $71,000 increase.

The largest cost increase was for power, he explained. In 2004, the electric bill was just $3,000, but was $52,000 in 2018. The lower bill was because the sewage treatment plant wasn’t operating with the right amount of pumps and aerators that were required within its permit at the time, Coffey said.

Now that the plant is operating within its permit and meeting state regulations, the electric bill jumped to $52,800. Also, the cost for chemicals increased about $5,000.

“What that means is … because you have 450 customers, that $70,000 becomes a big increase. We readily acknowledge that,” Coffey said.

“There’s a big difference between Danville and Perryville. … The driver of that is because the operational cost of the Danville side is divided by 8,000. The problem for Perryville is the cost is divided by about 450.”

Coffey said to help reduce the sewer bill down the road, one solution was to try and offset future capital costs. “Ideally, we won’t incur any more capital cost on the wastewater plant until the debt service is gone.”

Another way to reduce the sewer bill would be to add water customers within the already established water service area, he said. Development within the existing service area would be best, Coffey said.

Annexing areas to increase the sewer customer base was suggested by council member Chad Blackwell. However, the city would have to cover the cost of adding sewer lines where they don’t yet exist, Coffey said.

Council member Adam Gray said if the high water bills keep people from moving to Perryville, “We’ll have a historical marker out there that says, ‘Perryville, nobody can live here affordably, but we’ve got an awesome (sewer) system.”

Council member Susan Parks said she and other residents love Perryville, “but we can’t pay these high bills. We cannot grow as a community with this thing hanging over our head.”

Once the service debt is paid off in a few years, the City of Perryville will be in a position to figure out how to best handle the situation in order to lower bills. “Before you do that next capital project, there has to be significant thought into how it’s done,” Coffey said. “It’s easy to see that it’s very, very difficult to absorb a significant expense on 450 customers.”

In other city business:

  • The council had its second reading of the 2019-20 budget. The budget includes a 4-percent raise for city employees and adds a part-time police officer. The three largest sources of estimated income are from insurance tax premiums of $72,000; payroll tax/net profits revenue of $31,000; and $90,000 in property taxes. The budget plans for a beginning general fund balance of $50,267.52. After expected expenditures of $285,023.33, the year-end balance on June 30, 2020, is projected to be about $7,000.
  • Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jennifer Kirchner told the board she had met with Perryville Mayor Brian Caldwell and Main Street Perryville about ideas for recreational and agriculture tourism opportunities for the area. She suggested the council may want to apply for a federal grant for the Army Corps of Engineers to assess the Chaplin River dam and algae and moss issues. “Maybe the dam is removed and there’s a better solution at this point. I don’t know,” Kirchner said. The second idea was to look at ways to connect Perryville Battlefield with downtown Perryville via trails.
  • The council once again unanimously agreed to uphold the city’s ordinance banning swine within the city limits. Cody Czajkowski asked for the second time that the council adjust the ordinance because one of his pets is a 200-pound Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.