New year means higher sewer fees for EBR residents

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Orange cones mark the shut down lane during work in September 2013 on East Baton Rouge Parish sewer system improvements on Burbank Drive near Highland Road. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Orange cones mark the shut down lane during work in September 2013 on East Baton Rouge Parish sewer system improvements on Burbank Drive near Highland Road.

The new year marks yet another sewer fee hike for East Baton Rouge Parish residents.

Monthly sewer bills have gone up 4 percent every Jan. 1 since 2004 to finance the parish’s $1.4 billion federally mandated sewer system overhaul.

With the latest fee increase, an average household using 8,600 gallons of water per month will see its bill climb to $43.92 a month, up from about $42.23 a month charged in 2013, according to Assistant Public Works Director Mark LeBlanc.

Monthly sewer bills are about 48 percent higher than they were in 2004, when the automatic fee increases first began. The average household at that time was paying about $29.67.

The system serves 137,990 customers, about 102,113 of whom are residential.

The sewer fees and a dedicated half-cent sales tax cover sewer system maintenance costs and debt service for upgrades through the Sanitary Sewer Overflow program.

The SSO program addresses environmental concerns over the parish’s crumbling sewer system and to comply with a federal consent decree the parish entered into with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2002.

When first approved more than a decade ago, the sewer rehabilitation program was expected to cost $618 million and scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.

Since then, the cost has more than doubled and the deadline has been pushed back to 2018.

With upgrades still ongoing, the parish’s total outstanding sewer debt is about $1.145 billion, LeBlanc said. “This is for all construction projects,” he said.

The sewer fee is expected to generate about $77.2 million in 2014.

Those looking to cut back on their sewer bills can seek to limit consumption, but they’ll still have to pay more per gallon than they did in 2013. The minimum sewer fee paid by those who use up to 3,000 gallons is going up from $17.90 a month paid in 2013 to $18.62 for 2014.