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Morrison among highest sewer bills

Sterling has lower rates than others

MORRISON – Morrison residents might suffer from sticker shock next month when they open their sewer and water bills. 

Residents who use 4,000 gallons in a month will see a 40 percent increase in the sewer portion of their bills. The city plans to use the extra money to pay for a new wastewater treatment plant.

That increase is just the start. The city expects big increases the next 4 years. By 2017, the new plant should be fully operational, Mayor Everett Pannier said.

The 4,000 gallons will cost $47.65, considerably higher than Dixon’s rate of $26.19 and Sterling’s $17.20. Rock Falls is still higher at $54, but that should change soon. 

Pannier said the city will likely raise rates by a similar percentage next year.

After 4 years, the rates will likely level off, the mayor said.

“Over the years, we’ve been pretty low,” Pannier explained. “Because we have been so low for so long, you’ll find us higher than other towns.”

The council unanimously approved the new rates this week. Members Harvey Zuidema and Leo Sullivan were absent.

The plant and pump stations are expected to cost $23 million. The city needed to increase its plant capacity and upgrade to comply with state and federal regulations. Officials decided that it was better to build a new plant rather than renovate the existing one. 

The plant will be on a former farm in south Morrison, near the Morrison Institute of Technology.

In Rock Falls, the city completed its wastewater treatment plant 2 years ago, complying with a court order.

Residents are charged $25.50 a month to pay down the debt for the plant, pump station and lift stations, among other charges on their bills.

“Barring losing a chunk of the population, that $25.50 should stay put for the foreseeable future,” City Administrator Robbin Blackert said.

For the next 20 years, the city will have payments of $1 million a year for the plant, Blackert said.

The city, she said, got a relatively good deal on the $27 million plant, most of which was paid for with interest-free loans. 

Smaller towns such as Morrison have a bigger burden because they have to spread out the costs of new plants among far fewer customers, Blackert said.

“Over the next decade, it’s going to be a huge burden on some of these smaller towns’ residents at no fault of their city governments,” she said. “It’s because of aging infrastructure and tougher requirements by the EPA.”

Ed Cox, Rock Falls’ sewer superintendent, agreed.

“It will happen all over the United States,” he said. “Everyone will have to build a new plant eventually.”

Dixon built its sewer plant a dozen years ago for $15 million.

Dan Mahan, Dixon’s wastewater superintendent, said it was less expensive then to build a sewer plant because of the relatively low cost of materials. 

Comparing sewer rates

Here's a comparison of monthly water rates for a resident who uses 4,000 gallons in a month:

Dixon $26.19

Morrison $47.65

Rock Falls $54.00

Sterling $17.20

Note: Dixon and Sterling measure their sewer bills in cubic feet, but Sauk Valley Media translated that into gallons.

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