Wastewater updates comes at a cost

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

MERRILL — The community of Merrill is dealing with necessary updates to its wastewater system.

“Our system is not quite 50 years old, and the DNR has been on the city’s case for about the last 15 years to upgrade it,” Mayor Rich Husman said.

He explained since the controlled discharge system was built in 1959, the population has grown.

Husman said the city hired McClure Engineering of Sioux City to design a plan for Merrill that would address future growth and still remain affordable.

“We’re going to add a third cell, covering about 6.6 acres. By doing this, we keep the same system we have but the cost is much lower,” Husman said.

Those improvements come with a price tag of $1.4 million.

Construction is planned to start in the summer of 2018.

He said the city has applied for grants and has been approved for a State Revolving Fund loan. The Clean Water SRF funds wastewater treatment, sewer rehabilitation, and stormwater quality improvements, as well as non-point source projects, according to its website.

“While we’ve been approved for that, the only problem is we have is to figure out how to pay for it. That means pass that on to the customers,” Husman said.

In August, the Merrill City Council discussed at length water and sewer rates for the community.

The council approved a motion to raise water rates by 10 percent and sewer rates by 200 percent effective Nov. 1. The ordinance was voted on at the September meeting.

Husman explained the city of Merrill currently bills quarterly for water and sewer.

“We are going to have to start billing on a monthly rate, and to do that our problem is two-thirds of our water meters are not on a remote system,” Husman said. “Someone has to go read the meter either on the outside of the house or in the basement.”

Only about 10 percent of the 660 meters are switched over to remote reading. Husman estimates it will take about $30,000 to change out the old meters.

By billing monthly, the council hopes to soften the impact on customers.

However, billing monthly also increases the man hours to do the reading monthly, as well as increasing the city clerk’s workload.

The average water bill in Merrill runs about $100 per quarter.

“It’s a catch 22. We’re trying to catch up to present times, but some of those meters are pretty old,” he said.

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