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Water, sewer hikes pay off

Unger: Surcharges now coming to an end helped obtain grants for new well, plant

MOUNT MORRIS – For nearly 3 years, village residents have been watching their water and sewer bills take a hike four times a year.

The good news: Those quarterly increases end in March.

Faced with the necessity of digging a new well and building a new sewer plant, in 2010 the village board implemented gradual water and sewer fee hikes in the form of surcharges that were added to the bills every 3 months.

Although the increases are substantial, the village board opted for surcharges rather than permanent rate hikes because the surcharges could be dropped once the work was done, Village President Greg Unger said.

Water surcharges began June 2010 and rose 5 percent every quarter until March, a total hike of 40 percent. The base rate went from $8.57 to $12 for 350 cubic feet of water.

Sewer surcharges also took effect that June; they rose 10.5 percent each quarter, and will end with this March’s bill. Overall, the base rate will more than double, from $14.47 for 350 cubic feet to $32.69.

The surcharges helped cut costs in the long run, Unger said.

The water increases put the department’s operating fund back in the black ink and made the village eligible for an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency grant to cover part of the cost of the well project, and a low-interest loan to cover the rest.

The sewer increase meant the village could buy land for the new plant and pay for an engineering plan before going to the IEPA for money.

“You can’t apply for grants or loans without a way to pay for the project,” Unger said. “The rates had to increase to cover it.”

The new well was needed because high levels of radium were detected that couldn’t be abated, bringing fines from the IEPA.

The 1930s-era sewer plant, updated in the ’70s, couldn’t meet IEPA standards for the effluent discharge, also incurring fines.

In both cases, village officials were able to get the fines decreased because they had a plan to solve the problem.

Now the $12 million sewer plant will cost the village only $9 million, thanks to two grants.

Some residents have asked why the village proceeded with the sewer project after the Quad/Graphics plant closed, Unger said.

“It wasn’t the plant we needed it for – it was for our residents,” he said. “Also if we are to attract new industry, we have to be able to offer them good infrastructure.”

The new plant, expected to be operating at the end of the year, can handle 800,000 gallons of wastewater per day, more than the 600,000 gallons the village now processes.

“The IEPA requires a capacity that allows for growth,” Unger said. “Once this is completed, Mount Morris should have an 80- to 100-year plant. It will be 20 years with minimal maintenance.”

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