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Alcosan rates to jump 17 percent next year, keep rising

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 5:48 p.m.

Water bills in many Allegheny County communities could jump by almost 60 percent over the next four years as the county's sewer authority begins a multibillion-dollar, federally mandated construction project.

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority board of directors voted on Thursday to boost service rates by 17 percent in 2014 and by 11 percent each year in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Alcosan's ratepayers next year will pay $5.05 per 1,000 gallons of water used, up from $4.32 per 1,000 gallons, and a quarterly service charge of $10.61, up from $9.07 per quarter.

A homeowner who uses 15,000 gallons per quarter would have an increase in 2014 of $4.19 a month, or $50.28 a year.

The authority expects next year's rate increase to generate $8.5 million in revenue, spokeswoman Nancy Barylak said.

By 2017, ratepayers will pay $6.90 per 1,000 gallons used. A homeowner using 15,000 gallons a quarter in 2017 would pay about $472 that year, a 60 percent increase over the current rates.

“I could swear, but I won't. It's ridiculous,” said John Arnold, 81, of North Versailles.

Arnold lives on a fixed income and said the progressive rate increases will be a problem. He blamed the federal government for forcing Alcosan to increase rates.

A rate increase was expected as Alcosan plans to spend $2.8 billion over the next 20 years to comply with a federal mandate — known as a consent decree — to reduce raw sewage flowing into rivers.

“Unfortunately, it is what we had to do,” said Alcosan board Chairman Harry Readshaw, a Democratic state representative from Carrick.

Readshaw and Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein, also a board member, abstained from the vote. Both wanted the authority to set a rate increase for only 2014 and decide on later rate increases on an annual basis. Board members Sylvia Wilson, Joseph White and Jack Shea, who participated via phone, voted for the increases.

Donna Sproul, owner of Bunny's Laundry in Blawnox, felt powerless about the rate increases. She is not sure how she will pay her new bill, which nears $800 every three months. In her 15 years of owning the laundry, she has weathered several rate hikes.

“You don't know what you can do about it,” Sproul said. “If they're going to do it, they're going to do it.”

The authority last raised rates for 2012, upping the cost per 1,000 gallons of water used and the quarterly service charge by 7 percent.

The increase is needed to finance about $70 million in bonds for numerous capital improvements, Barylak said. Those projects include sewer interceptor tunnel cleaning, upgrades to Alcosan's main pump station and plant to handle increased volume and other improvements, including those to the authority's biosolids recycling plant and Squaw Run Pump Station, according to the authority.

“Throughout the year, we challenge each department to reduce costs,” Alcosan Executive Director Arletta Scott Williams said in a statement. “However, we have said time and again that rate increases to fund federally mandated projects contained in the consent decree to address sewer overflows would be needed. This structure will assist everyone in future planning as opposed to waiting to change from year to year.”

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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