Portsmouth sewer rates are, in all probability going to double in the near future.
"We won't know until our plan is approved," said Portsmouth Waste Water Department Director Richard "Rick" Duncan, speaking by phone from Chicago. "There will be rate increases I know. I was just at an assessment where they talked about Toledo's rates. They doubled."
Duncan referenced the long-term plan to fix the problem with the combined sewer system in the area of Grandview Avenue in Portsmouth.
Duncan talked about the city adopting a long-term plan, a plan based somewhat on a Sept. 19, 2006 study from W.E. Stilson Consulting Group.
At a meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency in August, it was announced that the city had hired a consultant, Strand Associates, to study the combined sewer overflow and the need for a long-term plan.
"Basically that contains a number of improvements to the collection system and the treatment plant, and we are negotiating right now with the EPA as to what exactly were are going to be required to do after the plan is approved," Duncan said.
Duncan said at the August meeting the EPA had made the statement the sewer project would be the most expensive endeavor ever undertaken by the city of Portsmouth.
"They (EPA) expect us to spend a certain amount of money, and it looks like it is going to be in the $15-million range. And that's the amount of money we will be spending on our treatment plant and our collection system to meet the combined sewer overflow issues."
Duncan said if that estimate is correct, and he said it could be higher, that would represent about a 50 percent increase in sewer rates.
Duncan said sewer rates are based on the median household income of the city of Portsmouth.
"So the question would be how many years we would have to spread that out over to get the $15 million," Duncan said. "The 50 percent rate increase -- would it be a couple of years, or five years or more? That hasn't been determined yet."
Duncan said the end result will be in the neighborhood of a 50 percent rate increase.
"We're fortunate, based on local economic situations; normally we would have to get a much higher rate than that," Duncan said. "But because of our economic situation they can't really push us to go any higher than that."
Duncan said he expects to know something more definite after the first of 2009.
"But what we already know is that we will have an increase," Duncan said. "What we don't know is if we have to increase it all at once or can we stretch it out over so many years."
Duncan said the EPA would like for the city to increase the rates as much as possible as soon as possible to produce more revenue sooner.
"The EPA has a table, and we are very low on their list, and when they look at that they say our city is dragging our feet because our rates could be higher," Duncan said.
Duncan said he did a study approximately two years ago in which he selected about 20 cities in Ohio that are approximately the same size as Portsmouth, and found only two who had lower rates than Portsmouth's, and some of them were quite a bit higher than Portsmouth's.
"The problem with that is that it makes EPA think that we're not very aggressive," Duncan said. "The other problem is in our grants. We don't qualify for them because our rates are too low."
Duncan said he estimates it will be February or March before something concrete is in the works.
"A lot of the stuff I haven't had a chance to go over with Council," Duncan said. "I have kind of let them know something is coming but as far as being real precise about it, I can't yet."