Utility fees may increase in 2016, Delaware officials said at last week’s City Council meeting, where an additional $250,000 in funding was approved for the city’s water plant.
“Perhaps a modest increase in 2016,” said City Manager Tom Homan, “but we’ll be getting a better handle on what those fixed costs are going to be at that plant.”
It has been three years since the last utilities rate change, finance director Dean Stelzer said.
“We’ve been pretty good, even absorbing some inflationary costs, but this was bigger than anticipated,” Stelzer said.
Refuse and sewage rates may also increase, he said.
“To get back to that equilibrium point, we may have to bump them up a little bit, not much more than inflation in 2016, 3 or 4 percent,” Stelzer said. “But on the water side, we’ll have to gauge long-term.”
The additional funding council approved on Nov. 9 was needed for operating costs associated with the new water plant. Public utilities director Brad Stanton said because data wasn’t available for the new plant, costs for electricity and chemical use in water treatment were underestimated, so supplemental appropriations were needed for the fourth quarter of 2015.
“We did start up the new surface water/ground water membrane water plant in January 2015,” Stanton said. “It’s one of the few plants in the country to treat both ground water and surface water. Therefore, it was hard to put together a budget for 2015.”
The supplemental $250,000 that council approved breaks down to $135,000 in electricity, $105,000 for chemical supplies, and $10,000 for outside lab services at the plant.
The plant uses very thin membranes to filter impurities from the water.
“The majority of the electrical is based on the fact that we did start up the membrane process,” Stanton said. “Unlike the plant that we replaced, every part of the plant is pumped and pressurized from process to process. This starts from the river, and includes our well field, and all the way through the treatment process, out to our high service pumps and out into the distribution system.”
Also, the plant was run at full capacity to test that it was operating correctly before it was accepted from the contractor.
“We were spending about $167,000 on (water plant) electricity in 2012,” Homan said. “We’re budgeting $460,000 in 2016.”
Additional chemicals and electric were used to treat the raw water supply from the Olentangy River, which was less clear due to the heavy rains earlier this year, Stanton said.
“Because of the level of treatment the membranes provide now, those pollutants are captured and we have to backwash those membranes more frequently than was assumed during the design process,” Stanton said.
Among the additional chemicals the plant used was orthophosphate to remove corrosion in water pipes, and citric acid and caustic acid to clean the membranes.
The outside lab services were used to test for strontium, total dissolved solids, and cryptosporidium. There is also a quarterly bioessay of toxicity taken for above and below the water.
The plant is meeting all of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency requirements, Stanton said, with no violations.
“We’re removing nitrates and atrazines below EPA requirements, and we’re also treating our hardness level.”
With a full year of data on plant operations in 2016, Stanton hopes to be able to provide a more accurate budget request in 2017, as well as long-range forecasts.
A utility rate increase would go to the city’s finance committee and council. The utility rate change could take place by the end of the first quarter.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.