Kentucky council asked to increase sewer fees

Nov. 17, 2000
Increased sanitary-sewer fees are on their way for Lexington residents. The only question: how soon they'll arrive.

By LAURA OPPENHEIMER

Nov. 15, 2000 (Lexington Herald-Leader)—Increased sanitary-sewer fees are on their way for Lexington residents.

The only question: how soon they'll arrive.

City officials asked the Urban County Council yesterday to consider boosting sewer rates by 20 percent starting in July, one year earlier than expected.

Council members had long known they would need to increase fees to keep up with a hefty list of sewer improvement and construction projects approved as part of a long-range plan in March 1999. But many had thought the increase could be put off until 2002.

Gloria Martin, who represents much of rural Fayette County, said she was disappointed but not surprised by yesterday's announcement.

"I suspected somebody would come back to us within a year or so asking for a user-fee increase," she said. "I would not be supportive of that for a long, long time."

Although the overall price tag of $169 million for the sewer work is less than the initial projection, the city needs the money sooner than expected, Donna Cantrell, the government's finance commissioner, said yesterday.

"We're spending money faster than anticipated," she said. "I know that's not something the council's been used to hearing."

Expenditures will exceed projections by more than $9 million by July 2002, Cantrell estimated. Boosting fees a year early would nearly make up the difference, she said.

The suggested sewer-fee increase joins other additions to consumer expenses. Natural-gas prices have risen substantially this year, and soaring gasoline prices have made driving more expensive.

Under the proposed sewer-fee increase, an average homeowner would pay $2 more a month, for a total of about $148 a year. The average business bill would increase $30 a month, to $2,190 a year.

That's small compared with Lexington's 1992 increase, when bills jumped 48 percent.

Sewer use fees have stayed the same since then, and are lower in Lexington than in many Kentucky cities, according to a study done by Fayette County. The proposed increase would put Lexington about on par with most other cities.

The proposal upsets many council members, who are being asked to vote on the increase next month.

"I think the council has a problem with credibility," George Brown said. "We told the citizens of Fayette County one thing, and now we turn around and ask them for another."

Cantrell told council members that holding up the fee increase might stall sewer projects that are moving along at a good clip. North Elkhorn and Cane Run improvements, for example, are on schedule to be completed well before their 2005 deadline.

Community leaders have already started discussing the potential increases, said Emma Tibbs, leader of Lexington's Neighborhood Council.

"I want to know where they spent it," she said. "I can't believe they spent all those millions of dollars."

©2000, Kentucky Connect and the Lexington Herald-Leader