Toledo is set to begin a $9.6 million dollar construction project next year to replace the town’s aging sewer system.
The sewer replacement project has been in the planning stages since October 2011 and is nearly ready to open to bidding. The project is scheduled to be completed and online by 2015.
"We have a huge project happening next year, so the numbers look a little off," City Clerk Michelle Whitten told the Toledo City Council at their Nov. 4 meeting and budget workshop. "We anticipate spending about $9 million next year."
Whitten said taxes to the city will be higher next year, but it will be a one-time hit.
Toledo Mayor Jerry Pratt said Toledo will be raising water/sewer rates once more next year by $10 a month or $20 per bi-monthly billing cycle.
Councilwoman Carol Hill stated she is "concerned about our seniors on fixed income being able to pay an extra $10 a month. They are already trying hard to make every penny count. For some, there is no way they can come up with another $10. They make $700 a month and don’t qualify for food stamps. They don’t want to go to the food bank because they’re too proud."
Toledo has raised sewer rates every year since 2011 in anticipation of the $3.5 million loan needed to receive $6.4 million in grants.
"We take rate increases very seriously," Pratt said. "We chose to spread the costs out over many years rather than to raise them all at once."
Pratt said city officials knew they were in for a big project when construction crews found wooden water/sewer pipes along Oak Street during an earlier street project. He said they began building a capital improvement fund early and sought out grants and other matching funds, rather than doing nothing and waiting for the system to fail.
"We look at things and go after them," Pratt said. "We don’t sit back and wait."
Many small towns like Toledo have shrunk in recent decades and no longer have the tax base to support a large water/sewer infrastructure. Putting off upgrades and repairs due to budget shortages can put a city so far behind that they never get caught up.
"We are lucky we started early," Pratt said. "We are so far ahead of the curve. After this, we won’t have to raise rates for at least five years."
The annual maintenance and operation expenses won’t be known until bids are received and approved, but Whitten said a recent estimate was $200,000, which included $20,000 a year for sludge removal.
Toledo water/sewer customers may have already noticed the new bill format.
"We hope people open the letters and realize it’s their bill," Whitten said, adding that the grants for the sewer project required an upgrade to billing statements from tickets to letters in envelopes.