SALT LAKE CITY — The proposal hasn't yet been cleared, but Salt Lake City water users may see significant increases in their water and sewer bills this year — and next year.
And the year after that.
In fact, Salt Lake City public utilities officials are projecting a need for sewer rates to increase steadily over the next five years until they more than double, with a 127 percent total increase by 2021.
That means an average household's monthly sewer bill would increase from about $16 a month to nearly $37 a month — or from $195 a year to $442 a year.
In order to fund several large infrastructure upgrades, the city's Public Utilities Department is recommending a 30 percent increase to its sewer rates this year, meaning the average household will be paying an additional $4.88 a month or $58.50 a year.
The department is also proposing a 5 percent increase to culinary water, an impact to the average household of an additional $1.54 a month or $18.48 a year.
But the rate hikes aren't expected to stop there.
For sewer — an additional 15 percent in 2018 and 2019, 10 percent in 2020 and 20 percent in 2021. For culinary: a steady 4 percent increase per year through 2021.
The rate change proposals are part of an effort to keep up with inflationary costs and to fund several expensive infrastructure projects — a plan that began last year when Salt Lake City increased sewer rates by 12 percent and water rates by 4 percent.
"Of the utmost importance to us is protecting public health and the environment," said Laura Briefer, director the city's Public Utilities Department, when she presented the rate increase proposal to the City Council this week. "This means protecting our water quality and safeguarding public healthy by keeping our systems well maintained."
Briefer said the rate increases have become necessary because the city is "starting to come up on a lot of capital needs that we just can't keep Band-Aiding together."
Bonds were issued in 2017 for $72 million to finance sewer capital improvements projects.
At the top of the list: a new treatment plant for the city's sewer system. The current facility, Briefer said, was built in the 1960s and is nearing the end of it's "useful life."
The new facility will also be designed to meet upcoming federal and state discharge regulations, be seismically compliant and be designed to accommodate anticipated growth in wastewater capacity.
The new plant, slated to be completed in 2025 and have a 50- to 60-year life, would cost a total of $285 million over six years, according to the department's budget proposal.
Collection system lines are also aging, Briefer said. The Salt Lake City International Airport expansion and the development of the city's northwest quadrant — spurred by the development of the new Utah State Prison — have also expedited the need for master planning. The city expects to invest about $200 million into the sewer collection system in the next five years, Briefer said.
As for culinary water projects, the rate increases would fund projects including waterline replacements, treatment plant improvements, reservoir improvements, pumping plant upgrades and new automated meters, Briefer said.
The incremental rate increases, which started last year, are being proposed "so we don't hit our residents with a really big rate increase all at once," Briefer said.
Briefer noted with the new increases, Salt Lake City sewer and water customers will still be paying lower water rates than several cities in the area, including Ogden, Riverton, South Jordan, Draper and Park City.
During discussion of the budget proposal Tuesday, City Council Chairman Stan Penfold noted Salt Lake City has been anticipating sewer and water rate increases for some time, with the knowledge that the aging infrastructure would need upgrades.
But Councilman Charlie Luke said the rate increases won't come without frustration.
"Anytime rates are increased, there's going to be some pushback; no one likes to do it," Luke said.
He added that it would have been less painful for Salt Lake City residents to phase in the increases over a longer period of time, rather than "waiting until the very last minute where things get expensive."
"That didn't happen, so now we're in a situation where we have to make these larger (increases)," Luke said. "I think when you look at a 30 percent increase, there is going to be a lot of sticker shock. And frankly, that's all of our faults."
Briefer said affordability is being taken into consideration, and that the rate structure proposal may change after the completion of a rate study this summer.
Briefer also noticed the city does offer customer assistance programs, which partner with The Salvation Army to help struggling residents pay their bills.
The City Council has not yet approved the budget proposal.
Mayor Jackie Biskupski is expected to make her budget recommendations on May 2, followed by several public hearings in May and the beginning of June. State law requires the City Council to adopt a budget by June 22.
If the rates changes are approved, they would go into effect July 1.