The bad news is, water and sewer rates are going to go up every year for the next five years. The good news is, the size of the increases will not be larger than residents are already seeing on average.
Norwalk City Council heard a presentation Tuesday night from its consultant on the long-term capital improvement plan, Prism Municipal Advisors. The city is facing many Environmental Protection Agency mandated sewer and water projects and is exploring options to finance these projects, which will total more than $15 million.
The city initially feared that paying for the projects entirely through sewer and water rate increases would make the city's rates too high compared with its peer communities.
However, Prism's study indicates the city could finance all the projects by dipping into the water and sewer reserve funds, coupled with an average rate increase of about 7.5 percent per year. The average rate increase since 2000 has been 7.35 percent per year.
"You should monitor your rates versus other peer communities, and it gets out of hand, you might have to adjust," said Brad Sprague, president of Prism. "But other cities are facing the same pressure of EPA mandates, and Norwalk is well ahead of them."
Compared to the 16 peer communities, Norwalk had the 10th highest rates, with the average user cost of $833 well below the $900 average. The increase will be broken down into 5 percent water and 10 percent for sewer.
Sprague told council paying for the EPA mandated projects through fees was the best, most responsible way to go, leaving free other revenue sources for other capital improvement projects. The city would have considered a property or income tax if the rate increases had been out of control.
Mayor Sue Lesch and several council members wanted to make it clear to the public that the city has no choice but to obey the EPA mandates and take on the expensive water and sewer projects.
"We have to step up and pay for it," Lesch said.