How will the bond issues affect sewer rates?

If voters approve Columbia’s $77 million bond issue, connection fees and rates will increase through 2013.

The connection fee for a new single-family home would increase from $600 to $700 in fiscal 2009 and $800 in fiscal 2010.

What happens if the bond issues are not approved?

If Columbia’s $77 million sewer bond issue doesn’t pass, most of the improvements still have to be made, said Steve Hunt, the city’s environmental services manager. He cited state Department of Natural Resources’ regulations, the need to add equipment to the Wastewater Treatment Plant to keep it reliable and necessary upgrades to the collection system.

Hunt said the City Council would have to decide whether to put the issue on the ballot again, perhaps in August, November or in 2009.

The council could also decide to come up with the needed revenue by raising rates. If that were to happen, Hunt said, rates would increase drastically over a two-year period because the city would need to come up with the revenue all at one time, rather than spreading it out over a few years. After two years, rates would decrease but not return to today’s levels.

The city has not released figures for how rates would be affected if the bond is not approved.

“We do have that number, but we haven’t been campaigning with it,” he said. “We’ve made a decision not to.”

“Essentially our current customers would have to pay for the entire project over a one- or two-year period,” Hunt said. “The attractive thing for bonds is that when we spread them out over a few years, and we know our rate base continues to increase, as we go on in future years, more and more people are paying for it, which allows for current customers to pay less.”

There are a few things that could be cut out of the project if the city were forced to come up with the revenue without the bonding authority. A new administration building at the treatment plant and the odor control system would be the first things to go, he said.

“The public that lives around there wouldn’t like it, but it’s obviously not being mandated like many of the other improvements,” he said.