SIOUX CITY -- During Monday night's Sioux City Council meeting, Mayor Bob Scott said a proposed 6.5 percent sewer rate increase is a "direct result" of Big Ox Energy owing the city more than $3 million in wastewater treatment fees, late charges and fines, a total the Wisconsin-based company is disputing.
"Big Ox costs our community that kind of money," Scott said. "It's just terribly unfortunate that we're going to have a rate increase because of that."
In November, the council approved a consulting service agreement with HDR of Des Moines for a cost of service study. The goal of the study was to identify current and near-future costs to treat various wastewater constituents. The sewer fund is in need of two yearly rate adjustments to comply with the Enterprise Fund Balance Policy and to ensure compliance to debt ratios for the issuance of a new Clean Water State Revolving Loan.
"We've just been eating down balances waiting on certain things to fall into place," said Sioux City Finance Director Donna Forker, who noted that she can't use the roughly $3.1 million Big Ox owes as projected revenue because "the collection is uncertain."
If the council decides to implement the study, residential customers would not see a rate increase on Aug. 1. On July 1, 2020, a 6.5 percent rate increase would go into effect. The council also has the option of increasing rates by 3.25 percent the first year and 3.25 percent the second year. The last rate increase for sewer was a 3 percent increase that went into effect in July 2017.
If the council opts not to implement the increase over two years, the typical resident using 8 CCF would see a monthly increase of $2.29, while a large family using 11 CCF would pay $3.08 more a month.
Big Ox announced on April 19 that it was temporarily suspending its biogas production operations in South Sioux City to repair problem digesters that had leaked solid waste. On April 30, the plant's wastewater treatment operations were shut down after its wastewater discharge permit was not renewed by the city of Sioux City.
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The council decided to defer a vote on increasing rates for municipal parking ramps and parking meters, as well as parking fines.
According to city documents, the increases to various parking fees and fines are needed to generate more revenue to pay for repairs to the parking ramps and purchase new parking meters. The last rate increase for most of the parking fees occurred in June 2010.
Dick Salem, a veteran real estate agent and member of the city's Effective Fiscal and Public Policy Committee, said the committee recommends that the council develop a parking program similar to that of Davenport, Iowa. According to Salem, Davenport offers free two-hour parking downtown. When that two-hour limit is exceeded, a $25 fine is issued.
"That would really benefit the retailers and offices downtown, because there's very few times when it's more than two hours," he said. "If you're working there, you should be parking in the parking ramp."
Councilwoman Rhonda Capron expressed concerns about issuing $25 tickets to visitors who go over the two-hour limit while eating and shopping downtown.
"That's not good PR," she said.
The current rate for metered parking is $.60 per 30 minutes and $.75 per hour. If the council votes in favor of the adjustments, those fees would increase to $.80 and $1. Parking meter overtime fines would rise from $9 to $10, while all other other parking-related fines would increase from $30 to $35.
At Heritage, Rivers Landing and Discovery parking ramps, the following rate increases for monthly users are proposed:
- 2 to 100 spaces used $40 per space to $45
- 101-199 spaces used $38.25 per space to $40
- 200 plus spaces used $35 per space to $38