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Sewer rate remains low compared to state

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

McCracken County wastewater rates are set to increase, but the average Paducah area sewage bill is lower than the state average.

Paducah-McCracken Joint Sewer Agency (JSA) Executive Director John Hodges addressed the McCracken Fiscal Court on Monday and the Paducah City Commission on Tuesday to receive final approval of an 8 cents per 1,000-gallon wastewater rate increase.

The JSA rate per 1,000 gallons is $4.35.

The agency requested the increase, which will bring rates up to $4.43, to adjust for the Consumer Price Index.

Hodges said the average household usage of sewerage is based on average water meter readings of 5,000 gallons. Customers' new rate of $4.43 per 1,000 gallons at a 5,000-gallon average monthly usage would amount to an average bill of $22.15 for Paducah and McCracken customers.

An independent group that reports statewide wastewater statistics, Hodges said, reported the 2011 average for Kentucky wastewater bills was $32.25.

"Basically, our residential rate is about 65 percent of the state average," Hodges said.

The difference in bills may also come as a result of different rate structures by different utilities. In Mayfield, the minimum cost for the first 2,000 gallons of wastewater is $8.72, and every 1,000 gallons after that is $4.36. For Murray residents, the first 2,000 gallons cost $11.92 in total, the next 2,000 gallons cost $5.96 per 1,000 gallons, then $4.20 per 1,000 gallons for the following 4,000 gallons, and lower rates for further usage. Murray's county customers pay higher rates.

Hodges said he couldn't pinpoint why the Paducah and McCracken County rates are low, but he said it may be because of low overhead costs.

"We try to run lean on employees, and our board tries to keep costs as low as we can," he said. 

But as the JSA continues to improve wastewater systems to keep in line with federal regulations, Hodges said, rates may have to change.

"I know as times goes by our rates will have to go up to keep in line with regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency," he said.

Much of the Paducah area's sewage runs on one line for storm drainage and wastewater. JSA has been working to separate the system lines to better meet EPA standards. Its latest project is at the Wallace Park neighborhood, where the agency has begun a $4 million project to separate the sewerage line. Hodges said crews are finishing home inspections for private plumbing work and just starting construction.

"We've got a lot of challenges out there right now, but right now we're trying our best to keep rates low," he said.

Hodges said other wastewater systems with higher rates may be more aggressive about reinvesting in infrastructure. 

"I think we're fairly aggressive," he said. 

He said at some point the JSA will likely have to do a rate study to see what is needed for system upgrades to meet regulations. 

"We're going to have to spend a lot more money to meet the changing environment," he said.

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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