Trenton City Commission Discusses Sewer Rate Hike

September 10, 2019

This surreal shot of the inside of a sewer pipe was part of the "Incredible Journey" through Trenton's sewage system that Fire/Utility Commission Jerry Henegar took the city commission on at its Monday night meeting.

 

Dade County is a rural county where not many residents are currently served by a municipal sewer--but where those who are will shortly be paying more for it.

 

Fire/Utility Jerry Henegar proposed a 30 percent increase in sewer fees at Monday night's regular September meeting of the Trenton City Commission. Showing the commission slides of decaying clay pipes from the 1960s and a wastewater plant now approaching 30 years old, Henegar said multiple upgrades were needed and sewer rates had not been raised in over 20 years.   

 

“I don’t know how else to do this,” he said.

 

Through a PowerPoint presentation he and Trenton sewer chief Dewayne Moore had prepared, Henegar gave Mayor Alex Case and the other city commissioners--minus Police Commissioner Kit Forshee, who was away on business--a virtual tour of the unglamorous Trenton underworld, where curtains of tree roots invaded and occluded decaying clay pipes. A camera had, apparently, been sent sojourning through the pipes on this incredible journey, sometimes finding root dams impassible.

 

The sewer cost the city $56,986 in maintenance last year, said Henegar, and has racked up $75,000 more already this year. Now there are problems with a major pipeline behind Auburn Ridge, through which 35 percent of the city's sewage must flow. "We’re putting in 500 feet of new pipe this week,” said Henegar.

 

He said the wastewater treatment plant, too, was increasingly obsolete, so that it was harder and harder to find parts for the Band-aid-type repairs the staff had been making so far. Mayor Case added, as he often has before, that the new "flushable"--they're not, really, says the mayor--cotton products, such as baby wipes, diapers and wet wipes, are playing hell with the city's works as well. “It's just stuff that back when that plant was designed, it wasn’t here,” said Case.

Watching the show are, from left around table, City Clerk Russanna Jenkins, Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Terry Powell, sewer chief Dewayne Moore, Fire/Utility Commissioner Jerry Henegar and Mayor Alex Case.

 

Case, Henegar and Dewayne Moore described "drying beds" where the unbeautiful post-flush flotsam lies after being fished out of the rotors. If it rains, he said, "It swells back up." He said the sewer department is understaffed and the labor of keeping up with it is killing the crew. 

 

Henegar said the department will eventually need to secure a loan for major equipment upgrades and that lenders are not enthusiastic about advancing funds to utilities that consistently operate in the red. Anyway, said Mayor Case: “We can’t continue to operate the plant at a loss.” 

 

Case said Trenton is losing $110,000 a year on the sewer as it is and that shortly costs will "quatriple."

 

A 30-percent fee increase sounds drastic, said Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten, but Henegar pointed out that for most customers, the hike will translate into a monthly increase of only $4.50. That's for residential users who live inside the city and use no more than 2000 gallons of water a month, which he said accounts for three-quarters of city sewer users.

 

Outside city limits--local news followers will know that some houses south of downtown, up to Brown Drive off Highway 11, have been connected to the city sewer of late--pay 1.5 times what city dwellers do, and their rates will be commensurately higher. Also included in the above chart are typical rates for industrial customers.

 

A complicating factor is that sewer fees are collected by the Dade Water Authority, which last month discussed a 25 percent hike in its own fees. That means Trenton residents may soon face a double-whammy when they open their bills: increases in both their water and sewage rates.

 

But the water board has not yet approved the water hike, and neither did the city commission vote on Monday about the proposed sewage uptick.

 

Another important bit of city business that did not get a vote at the Sept. 10 meeting was proposed changes to Trenton's brush ordinance. "We just need to decide what are we willing to do and what are we not willing to do," said Streets Commissioner Wooten. As it is, she said, city workers can be tied up all day long with a back hoe and dump truck on individual jobs. "We’re talking about major major projects we’re getting into,” she said.

 

But no action was taken this month. "There’s some stuff in the ordinance we’re going to have to fine-tune,” said Henegar.

 

Neither was any taken on "Dade Tree Hugger" Jennifer Blair's proposed changes to make Trenton's ordinances for commercial parking lots more tree-friendly and stormwater-easing. Mayor Case said those changes would be discussed next month.

 

In other business, the commission approved $15,175 in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) for a tag reader for a police car requested by Trenton Police Chief Christy Smith.

 

Chief Smith, incidentally, gave the monthly police report in the absence of Police Commissioner Forshee. She said police fines collected in August were $23,527.47 for a year-to-date total of $154,435.

 

The commissioners also approved the city's proposed 2020 budget of $1,825,805, at which they had arrived through a couple of intensive recent budget work sessions. Case said both health insurance and workers' compensation insurance have gone up this year for city workers, with multiple claims during the last three years. "We attended a workers comp class that...opened our eyes quite a bit on some things.” he said.

 

The new budget includes a 3 percent raise for employees and the same amount of the Dade Public Library as this year, $48,000. Case said another special called meeting would be necessary to approve the millage rate he and the commissioners had already decided on. That's 4.498, but it won't be official until after that meeting, date to be announced later. It is a rollback--or slightly decreased--rate, so that public meetings will not be required.

 

Jerry Henegar will step down after this year and a new fire/utilities commissioner will have to push forward work on the city sewer. Three candidates are competing for that job, but only one, former City Clerk Lucretia Houts (center), was at the Sept. 9 meeting. Also shown are Police Chief Christy Smith and "Tree Hugger" Jennifer Blair.

 

The commission voted to approve minor changes required by the state on its joint comprehensive plan with the county government. The mayor, city clerk and out-of-town city attorney were given authorization to act on the city commission's behalf in negotiating an intergovernmental (IGA) agreement with the Dade County Commission on the 2021 SPLOST proposal. Dade voters must decide next year whether to continue the extra penny of sales tax they pay to support local building and paving projects, and before that goes to ballot next spring local government officials must decide which projects they wish to finance with those pennies.

 

"Please keep working on your lists," said Mayor Case. One item the city might want to consider is a land purchase to expand its park, he said. 

 

Case said Trenton's share of the Dade SPLOST was computed at 16.23 percent this time around.

 

The Trenton City Commission meets at 6 p.m. the second Monday of every month. The next meeting is on Oct. 14. 

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