Greenville residents can expect to see a $3.15 increase in sewer rates, effective Oct. 1, 2020 — the beginning of the new fiscal year.
The increase was decided by a 3-2 vote of the city council during their regular Tuesday meeting.
Members of the council said it was “with regret” they voted in favor of the raised rate, but after recent budget sessions and discussions with external financial consultant Steve Osso, it was necessary given the state of the city’s sanitary sewer system.
Mayor Errick Simmons and the city council said they are hopeful the increase will help to ensure the continuity and success of a five year plan to rehabilitate the city’s sewer system by addressing issues such as those with the Hancock Force Main and the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The improvements to the city’s sewer system are mandated by a partial consent decree with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) issued in January 2016.
To that end, the council also voted unanimously to approve a change order with Murphy Pipeline Contractors, Inc., which entails adjusting a 10 inch water main at the intersection of Theobald and Grove streets and boring through six inches of abandoned, concrete encased sewer lateral at the intersection of Theobald and Magnolia streets.
The adjustments and boring will be done in order to accommodate the new, larger 18.21 inch force main under the Comprehensive Sanitary Improvements Project, Contract No. 1 — Hancock Force Main under State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan #C280767.
Simmons said back when the sanitary sewer evaluation survey (SSES) work was done, the project was initially estimated to cost $17.5 million.
City of Greenville engineer William Burle shed some light on how the city arrived at the decision to increase sewer rates to fund the now roughly $26 million project — based on a Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2024 span.
“We approached the Public Service Commission in April with the proposed sewer rates and those were based on a five-year plan for improvements to the city that were proposed to the EPA back in March,” Burle said, noting the Public Service Commission’s approval of the proposed rates after submitting them in June.
“For many years, we’ve had an aging infrastructure and Greenville is no different from any other city or town in the country in dealing with aging infrastructure,” Simmons said. He pointed out that many sewer lines around the city, such as those on Caldwell Drive in particular, were put in as early as 1898.
“A lot of the lines that carry the sanitary system are going through a collection system to a wastewater treatment plant and from there, to a lift station,” he said. “When you see a lot of these potholes and a lot of these collapses, even what you see on Broadway and Alexander, that 20 foot hole is because of aged pipes.”
Reiterating the millions of dollars it costs to address the city’s bevy of sewer problems, Simmons said the council has vowed to work with the DOJ and EPA to begin to redress the sewer system by building the necessary improvements.
“When you make those improvements it increases the capacity, but it also makes it better for all of us and our children — they won’t have the same inability to flush or sewer backing up into their homes,” he said.
Simmons elaborated on the significance of the work on the Hancock Force Main.
“It’s going from Pump Station 5 in Ward 4 all the way to Pump station 17 in Ward 6 and it covers our industries like USG, Mars, Scott Biodiesel and Broadway Linen that have about 800 direct jobs. When it comes to indirect jobs, that’s well over 2,000 because Producer’s Rice Mill is further down and we were informed that that line was collapsing,” he said. “We had to not only fix that line, which was a $4.5 million project to keep those jobs and prevent an exodus of over a thousand jobs, but also those residents in neighborhoods like Carver Circle and further south.”
The entirety of the city’s sewer system is estimated to cost well over $100 million in rehabilitation and improvements, according to Simmons. He highlighted construction that has begun in the West Terrace Garden area, which is contracted for $2.5 million and includes cross streets like Caldwell Drive, parts of Theobald and Chatham Drive.
With such an extensive scope of work needed for the city’s sewer system, Simmons said as it pertains to funding, they have to show where the money is coming. Funding for projects as substantial as the city’s sewer system often times requires the municipality to “match” the award.
“The only way we can do that is show either an ad valorem tax increase, which we’ve done over the years, and water and sewer rate increases … the reason we’re doing it regretfully is to make the conditions better for everyone and quite frankly, save folks’ jobs,” Simmons said.
Ward 6 Councilman James Wilson said as much as he regrets it, the city has to do what needs to be done in order to provide the funds for the grant the city is trying to obtain. “In order to get additional money, we’ve got to make a show of good faith, show that we’re invested in it,” he said, adding he knows a lot of people are having a hard time.
Councilwoman Lurann Thomas empathized with Wilson, but also with residents who she said are already struggling to pay their bills.
“Certainly it is a great need and I understand that. I understand that we need to do this in order to make sure our residents are properly taken care of…but it’s hard to tell residents they have to pay an additional $3.15,” she said.
Simmons added “making this last increase” is in order to do the work and continue the work that is planned for the next five years to improve the city’s infrastructure.