DENHAM SPRINGS — Officials raised the basic sewer fee rate 67 percent Monday night for a large district located largely to the south of the city.
The Denham Springs City Council also increased rates for water and gas both inside and outside the city.
By a unanimous vote, the council raised natural gas rates by 10 cents per hundred cubic feet for customers inside and outside the city, including some in East Baton Rouge Parish, which borders Livingston Parish.
The change will result in an average monthly increase of $3.14, city documents show.
The council raised water rates an average of $5.43 for city residents and $5.63 for households outside the city.
Mayor Jimmy Durbin said the fee increases are necessary for the city to pay its bills.
The gas and water increases are required because of maintenance and the cost of relocating utility lines for road projects, Durbin said.
The sewer increase is needed to help pay back bonds sold to create the sewer system, the mayor said.
Residents of the relatively new Sewage District 1 will see their basic fee jump from $12 a month to $20 a month as a result of the unanimous action by the board of the sewer district. That $8 increase does not include an additional sewage fee based on water consumption.
Sewage system customer Tommy Poirrier complained that the majority of people in that district have no elected representative on the board that sets their rates.
That board is made up of the members of the City Council and the mayor.
The council proposed an ordinance that would add the Parish Council representative from that area to the board.
Even if that proposal is approved next month, the majority of customers will only have one elected member on a seven-member board, Poirrier said.
He said he does think that having a sewage system in the area is important to clean up the waterways, but said he thinks everyone within 300 feet of the sewer lines should be forced to tie in as is required by law.
Durbin said all of those households are being required to pay the sewer fee even if they have not tied into the system.
Poirrier told the board, “What perturbs me more than anything is we were sold a bill of goods.”
Just months after tying into the system, people are seeing a big increase in the amount they are being charged, he said.
The change also adds yearly changes to sewer bills based on the Consumer Price Index.
The cost increase for the sewage district customers comes because the district has not gotten enough
new customers to pay its notes on the $23.5 million in bonds the city sold to create the collection system, Durbin said.
The city expected to get 3,000 customers in the new district, but has only gotten about 2,000 new households, the mayor said.
Durbin said he hopes Juban Crossing, a planned commercial and residential development at Interstate 12 and Juban Road, and gradual additions of new subdivisions will prevent large sewer fee increases in the future.
Less development than expected in the area is one of the reasons the district does not have as many customers as it expected, Durbin said.
Another reason for lack of customers is that the district had to scale back plans for its coverage area, Durbin said.
That occurred because of the cost of buying out two small companies that operated subdivision sewer systems, he said.
Ken Downey, a resident in Sewer District 1, said the city should not have created the sewer district if it were not economically feasible.
“You made the mistake, but you want the people outside the city limits, who have no voice, to pay for the mistake,” he said.