Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

February 12, 2013

Altamont sewer rate hike has residents concerned

Jackson Adams
Effingham Daily News

ALTAMONT — Altamont City Council held a public hearing Monday to address citizen concerns about increased sewer rates.

Altamont Mayor Larry Taylor said the council is looking for ways to pay for the more than $6 million estimated cost of the required improvements to the wastewater treatment plant after sewage tests sent to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency revealed the system needed to be upgraded.

"We're pleading with everyone we know," he said. "We hope something works out. Right now, it looks like we're going to have to foot the bill for the whole thing and that's about it."

The improvements to the sewer system, the first since a previous improvement project in 1987, are intended to deal with increased amounts of organic waste in the sewage system, as well as provide upgrades to the city's treatment plants.

The biggest concern among residents was the estimated increase in sewer bills, which is estimated to cost citizens an additional 67 cents for every 100 gallons of water used.

Taylor said the additional costs could place a financial strain on many community members.

"We know there's a lot of people here on Social Security and this is going to be devastating," he said. "We don't have a choice. This is probably the hardest thing we've had to do since we had to do improvements the first time."

While some concerns were raised at the meeting about storm water and its affect on the updated facilities, Mike Curry, an engineer advising the city on the project, said the planned updates to the system would not solve the drainage problem.

"We're not able to find any source for that water," he said. "In order to reduce that (overflow), it would require a new system, and I would estimate that it would cost somewhere between $15 and $20 million."

Curry said he estimates the project could be completed by September 2014. After questions of whether the deadlines could be pushed back in order to delay or reduce the increased costs, Tracy Berberich, city attorney, said delays will not be an option.

"IEPA isn't offering delays that would make a difference," she said. "They're not making delays, they're demanding compliance."

The board held its meeting before the hearing and voted to amend the city's liquor control ordinance so it is more in line with the rest of Effingham County, requiring owners of establishments that sell liquor to live in the county.

Taylor said although the financial situation Altamont faces may seem high, the city is hardly alone.

"We're not the only ones in this boat, but it's our boat and we're worried about it," he said.

Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or jackson.adams@effinghamdailynews.com.