• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Sewer hearing draws few citizens, one skeptic

A public meeting at St. Leo School Dec. 17 to discuss a new $20 million Versailles wastewater treatment plant attracted only a dozen or so of the customers who’ll pay higher sewer rates for it. (Versailles water and sewer customers were sent a letter explaining the rate hikes and notifying them of the meeting at Versailles Fire Station #3 on Huntertown Road. Versailles Public Works Director Bart Miller said after the letter was sent, the meeting was moved to St. Leo because the school offered more parking, and the city’s website explained the change. A public works employee and large banner were stationed at the fire station between 5 and 7 p.m. the day of the meeting, and steered just two people to St. Leo, Miller said.) One city official said the number of citizens who attended was fewer than the total of city officials, employees and representatives of GRW, the engineering firm that will design the new plant. Six large charts around the room detailed the need for the new plant and plans to pay for it – three 18.5 percent rate hikes per year. (The first reading of a motion to that effect was heard at the Dec. 15 city council meeting, along with a motion to raise rates by 2 percent annually for seven years beginning in 2019.) Most of the customers seemed satisfied with the explanations offered by city council members, public works officials and representatives of GRW. “I would say the cost is justified,” said John Davis, who lives in the Woodlands subdivision, which is in the county but uses Versailles water and sewer services. “It’s going to be a hard pill to swallow, though, because you have a lot of customers right now that are on fixed incomes, and when you have an increase like that, it makes it difficult.” Davis is also chairman of Northeast Water District Board, which purchases its water from Versailles. He said he’s been to many meetings with other districts and users and heard plenty from his own district’s customers. “All the towns, they’re having to upgrade their systems, too, so I don’t think it’s out of line with the normal increases that’s required to be done to get the sewer services online to meet all the federal and state regulations,” Davis said. Council member Ken Kerkhoff gave Evalee Gress, who lives on Secretariat Circle, a tour of the placards. Later, Gress told The Sun that while she would have liked to see a board with more details on the financial plan for the new plant, she found the process open and well-presented. “The way they’ve presented it, they’ve made it palatable, even though it is a pretty big jump percentage-wise in the rate, it’s still a fairly small dollar amount over a period of three years. I was relieved to hear that it’s not going to continue on at that level …” said Gress. A woman who lives on Gleneagles Way, which is in the county but uses city water and sewer services, told utilities’ manager Mitzi Delius that her water/sewer bill triples during the summer, when she waters her lawn. The woman, who asked not to be identified, said her father ran a water department in West Virginia that gave a credit to people who use sprinklers, the water from which goes into the ground and doesn’t require treatment. “My point was, was there any possibility to … somehow get a credit on that meter, if we do want to pursue getting that in place, or even for those of us who do utilize the sprinklers on the grass, to get a credit on our bills in the summer?” she said. “It’s not anything that we’ve done since I’ve been here … that’s why we offer the landscape meter basically, so that you’re not charged the sewer portion of that,” Delius responded. The landscape meter costs $2,000. Delius said it can save some users about half of their water/sewer bill. Meanwhile, a skeptical Kerry Zeigler sat at a table with Versailles Utilities Manager Bart Miller and GRW’s Brad Montgomery for nearly all of the two-hour meeting. She said she believed Versailles officials deliberately under-reported water usage to minimize the impact of the bill increases. The letter to customers and charts at the meeting said the average household uses 4,000 gallons a month (an estimate from the Bluegrass Area Development District’s August rate survey) and thus will pay $5 a month more in 2016, $10 more in 2017, and $15 more in 2018. Zeigler said she lives in Eagle Crest subdivision, which uses city water and sewer services, and like other county customers, she pays higher sewer and water rates to begin with. Zeigler cited a page (http://water.usgs.gov/edu/qa-home-percapita.html) on the U.S. Geological Survey’s website that said the average U.S. household member uses between 80-100 gallons of water a day. A page on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, (www.3.epa.gov) said the average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water a day – or 100 gallons per person per day. The most recent U.S. census data shows the average Versailles home with 2.58 members, and if each member used 90 gallons a month, the household would total 7,082.1 – 77 percent higher than the city’s estimate. Montgomery said that total was high – that his family of four uses about 5,100 gallons of water a month. Miller said his family of “two and a half” uses between 4,000 and 5,000 a month. “That’s very low for a household of that size,” Zeigler responded. “It’s usually, the average is 2,500 gallons per person per month.” Montgomery said, “In my experience, that’s high. I’ve been doing this for 34 years.” Miller said demographics were a big factor, with urban households averaging between 3,500 and 4,500 gallons a month, older communities averaging less, and younger communities nearer the higher end of that range. Rural households, he said, average closer to 6,000 gallons a month. Zeigler said her most recent water/sewer bill for a household of “one and a half” was for 6,000 gallons, and that a check of her water meter showed it was accurate. Miller said he knew of other sources with much lower estimates than those from the EPA and USGS, and after the meeting, sent one from the city of Springfield, Mo. The page, (www.cityutilities.net/resident/pgms/watertips.htm) estimates the average family’s indoor water usage at about 50 gallons per person per day. In an email, Miller wrote, “Keep in mind also that water and sewer usage will vary greatly not only by the number of people in the household but also by personal habits and weather (i.e. watering, washing cars, etc.).”

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