COLUMBIA — Columbia City Council voted unanimously Monday to restructure sewer rates in a move that could cost a factory tens of thousands of dollars.
The ordinance seeks to correct previous inequities in sewer billing. Owners with master water meters will pay a base charge according to the size of their meter, instead of paying the same rate as residential users. Flow charges will also increase by about 10 percent.
John Wulff, senior plant engineer at the Oscar Mayer hot dog plant in Columbia, said the new rates will result in a $48,000 dollar increase in the plant's cost of doing business.
"Our sewer flow costs increased 32 percent from 2006-2010," Wulff said, referring to a bond increase for which the Oscar Mayer plant had budgeted.
Wulff said the additional $48,000 charge "puts us in an unfavorable position to compete." He said a sister plant in Madison, Wis., has "aggressively cut costs" over the past few years, making the extra charge a concern for the Columbia plant.
Wulff did not say how many people were employed at the Columbia plant or how many hot dogs it produced.
Mayor Bob McDavid, in response to Wulff's comments, pledged to meet with representatives of Kraft Foods Inc., which owns the Oscar Mayer brand, "in the near future."
"We can't, for the sake of $48,000, lose a company," McDavid said. "Keeping that in mind, I'm going to support this (ordinance)."
Brian Toohey, a member of the sewer task force that drafted the ordinance, supported it.
"Based on information given from our consultant, this was our best option," Toohey said, noting that while "there is no 100 percent fair way to do this, this is the fairest we could make it."
Richard Erickson said he owns a mobile home park in town and was "pleasantly surprised" by how the ordinance would affect his rates.
"I'm grateful for it," he said, "It (my rates) will go down considerably."