As progress on the construction of a new water treatment plant in Robbinsdale continues, the city will roll out utility billing increases. Most notable is a 39% increase in cost per 1,000 gallons of usage, from $3.63 to $5.05 per thousand gallons. Similar increases are planned for irrigation, fixed charges and capital surcharges.
Finance Director Jeff Zuba said for the owner of an average home, that will amount to a $9.11 increase per month, or an increase of $109 per year, for water. By the city’s calculation, the average home uses 4,000 gallons of water per month.
Increases are likely to be the norm for the next several years to begin paying off bonding for the water treatment plant. In 2017, consulting company Ehlers estimated that the scale of the project would require “major rate increases” to pay off a $42 million water treatment plant, $580,000 in annual street projects, $1.8 million in water meter replacements and $3.6 million to replace the existing water tower.
Zuba told the City Council that Ehlers’ cost estimates weren’t reflective of final costs, due to market changes and the addition of a water softening system.
The City Council members anticipated resident confusion when the next round of bills is delivered to resident mailboxes. Councilmember Dan Rogan emphasized the importance of educating residents about why their bills were going up. Councilmember Bill Blonigan agreed that people would be “surprised.”
When the new water system is deployed, city officials are expecting to add a significant source of revenue: North Memorial Health Hospital. Currently, the hospital complex does not use the Robbinsdale water system due to its need for softened water. In its 2017 study, Ehlers estimated that a hospital hookup could add $400,000 in annual revenue for the city.
Other utility increases
Though it was the sharpest increase, water is not the only utility going up in price in 2021. Based on average uses, the cost for sanitary sewer will increase by $1.90 per month, as will the storm sewer charge. Garbage hauling fees are set to increase by 4%, in accordance with the contract approved with Waste Management in 2019. Street light fees will also increase from $1.55 to $1.63.
In total, the increases should amount to $14.42 per month, or $173 for the year, for the average homeowner.
Water tower update
The City Council also finalized the design of a new water tower. Richard McCoy, the city’s public works director and city engineer, estimated the tower would go out for bid sometime in the early part of 2021.
The vote was nearly split after a few council members reversed their stance on a design addition. The council had agreed previously to add the date the city was established in small text underneath the city’s name and bird logo.
“I’m not thrilled with it,” said Rogan.
Councilmember Par Backen said he preferred to remove the year for a “cleaner” design.
Blonigan said he didn’t mind keeping it, but agreed that its placement on the tower gave it “undue importance.”
Mayor Regan Murphy defended the addition and voted against suggestions for its removal, as did Councilmember George Selman.
“It ended up there because it’s on our flag,” said Murphy.
“If it’s good enough for our flag, it’s good enough for our water tower,” echoed Selman.
Ultimately, the measure to approve the design without the establishment date was what passed on a 3-2 vote.
A tentative location for the new tower is on green space near the convergence of Highway 100, County Road 81 and West Broadway Avenue. McCoy said land acquisition and Federal Aviation Administration issues were currently being worked through, and bids could not be sought until they were resolved.
The downtown water tower may remain standing for longer than the city had planned. City Manager Marcia Glick told the council that the old tower “is staying, as a historic artifact, for the time being.”
Water towers store water and create pressure to get water to homes. It was previously estimated that the downtown tower, which is 125,000 gallons, would run a 25,000-gallon deficit for storage capacity immediately. The new tower will have a 750,000-gallon capacity.
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