Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bellevue reimburses some sewer charges

Bond rate covers cost of new plant

Express Staff Writer

The city of Bellevue is reimbursing some residents for past sewer-service charges on city lots that had no buildings and have not placed a demand on the city's wastewater treatment system.

"Many buildings in the city have been removed, or condemned, or lost to fires," City Administrator Tom Blanchard said. "There are a number of empty lots."

In November, the City Council approved an $18-per-month "bond rate" for sewer-service accounts associated with lots that have no sewer-line use, providing some relief for rates that have risen dramatically in recent years. The city charges $64 per month for actual use of the system.

The $18-per-month rate will help pay for the city's new wastewater treatment system. Twelve of the city's 900 sewer accounts are associated with vacant lots.

The city recently opened a $6 million wastewater treatment facility after its lagoon-type plant fell out of compliance with environmental standards several years ago. The federal government instituted more stringent limits on nitrogen concentrations in treated water.

At that time, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality threatened to levy fines against the city of up to $1,000 per day.

In response to the crisis, city officials raised sewer rates in 2005, from $18.21 to $35 per residential hookup, to pay for the new facility.

Since that time, the city's rates have nearly doubled to $64 per month.

Reimbursements for charges to vacant lots going back to 2005 have brought a welcome Christmas surprise to some Bellevue residents, such as Oak Street resident Teresa Bergin.

Bergin owns and rents five homes and 13 trailer-park spaces in Bellevue, providing what she called "affordable housing." Until now, she has been paying sewer rates on several vacant lots.

Bergin expressed concern in 2008 over sewer rate increases.

"You can't always pass this rate increase on to the renters," she said during a City Council meeting. "They sometimes just can't afford it."

Bergin will receive a refund of about $5,000 for past charges, or credit for future charges of $18 per month for the lots she owns that are vacant.

In other Bellevue news:

( The council approved a plan to apply for a grant with Blaine County to upgrade 1,500 feet of Broadford Road from the Broadford Bridge to Forbis Road. If the grant is successful, the city will pay about $20,000 for the upgrade. The remaining $230,000 for the project will come from a government grant.

( The council agreed to recalculate fees for new hookups to city services, based on a new water delivery system in progress, and the cost of the city's new wastewater treatment facility. No date was set for the council to address that subject.

Tony Evans:

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