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Marengo stands by wastewater fees

MARENGO – Residents and businesses will continue to pay the pricier wastewater rates that took effect in October so the city can afford $12 million in upgrades to its aging wastewater treatment plant.

City Council members had relief options available, such as relaxing fees for low-volume, small-business users, but decided to leave the rate structure alone, thinking that changes would threaten financing for work at the treatment plant.

Last year, the council nearly doubled wastewater rates for residents and businesses to secure and repay a $12 million loan from the state that will cover the bulk of the city's upgrades to its decades-old treatment plant.

"Anything can be on the table next year, but right now ... the council has taken a wait-and-see attitude until we have a better sense on what our borrowing costs are going to be," City Manager Gary Boden said.

The council met earlier this week to discuss possible rate relief options to the new rate structure of $6.74 per 1,000 gallons for residential and commercial users. That's an increase from $3.44 per 1,000 gallons.

The city projects the incease will generate about $725,000 annually, which Boden said should adequate to meet repayment obligations. But he cautioned that officials would have a better sense of those obligations once plant construction is well under way.

Construction should start next month, with loan repayment starting in May 2014.

Last summer, some Marengo residents were upset about the size of the fee increase.

"It's never good to increase fees," 2nd Ward Alderman Corey Brackmann said. "We are going to look at it again to see if we can possibly lower them, while still building the facility. As soon as we can, we will definitely lower rates, but it's not responsible to do that right now."

City administration presented aldermen with a few rate relief options that could pop up again next year, if aldermen revisit the issue.

Those included a summertime rate waiver for residents who use more water in the hotter months to preserve lawns and fill swimming pools, or moving low-volume, small-business users off the city's flat-rate usage fee for commercial units, which is considerably higher than the flat rate for residents.

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