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The third and final reading of an ordinance to increase base sewer rates was unanimously passed February 3rd by the Salmon City Council. The $21 per month rate increase will become effective March 1st.

Prior to approval, the issue of raising the sewer service base rate was discussed several times throughout the council meeting. The council had taken time out during the required three reading process to hold a work session on the possibility of using wetlands for waste water treatment.

Councilman Ken Gutzman pinpointed the two main stumbling blocks determined during the session as being first; finding enough available land to create a wetland large enough to do the job and second; not really knowing exactly how much waste water needs to be treated. He said that data will not be known for sure until the system’s Inflow and Infiltration problems are resolved.

At present it is estimated that the amount of non-waste water infiltrating sewer lines and flowing into the city’s treatment ponds could be from five to six hundred thousand gallons a day which would take far more wetland acreage to treat than is available. Gutzman said, “Looks to me like the immediate need is to get rid of all these leaks and get rid of some of that water so that we know how much sewage we have to treat.”

Mayor John Miller explained that the rate increase is not a decision on a future form of waste water treatment. He said it is to generate a cash flow to finance the sewer line repairs which must be done before a determination can be made as to what type of new waste water treatment system the city needs, if any. Miller said that undertaking the repair project will also show the Environmental Protection Agency the city is actively attempting to resolve compliance issues. Gutzman stated the city is currently facing a list of 367 violations and there is a potential EPA fine of $30,000 per day if no action is taken to correct them.

If after line repairs are made a wet land treatment system seems viable, or is necessary in the near future, Mike Overacker said he is willing to work with the city. Overacker owns property north of the city across the highway from the city treatment lagoons. He presently irrigates approximately 400 acres. He suggested the city research waste water treatment systems being used by other communities.

Jim Sustaire used a Public Comment portion of the meeting to remind councilmen of hardships the rate increase will inflict on low income, fixed income and unemployed residents who are already struggling financially. He asked if the city would really cut off services to those who can’t pay and he advocated putting some compassion into the ordinance.

Councilman Jim Kluesner said he has contacted social service agencies about whether there are any assistance programs for city utility bills. He said there are none for that purpose however there are programs to help with food, rent and heat which would help overall budgets.

Bar Hill resident Luke Prange said he didn’t think it is equitable to charge everyone for repairs to lines only in certain areas. He said those areas should be financed by creation of Local Improvement Districts and he questioned how costs were determined. Mayor Miller maintained it is a community problem to be addressed as a community. City Attorney John McKinney said the amount of the rate hike is not permanent and could be changed by way of resolution if fixing the delivery lines solves present problems.

During discussion before the final vote Councilman Jim Baker commented that city taxes are high, “…inordinately high for many.” He suggested taking a close look at next year’s budget to see if any city services could be reduced in order to equalize the total tax load on citizens.

Kluesner reiterated the importance of fixing the lines and studying different waste water treatment system alternatives in case the city has to build a new plant. He said there is a misunderstanding as to the purpose of the rate increase. It is not for the actual treatment of waste water it is to repair the sewer lines.

The council’s roll call vote was unanimous and made with confidence that the line repairs are imperative as well as regrets over any hardships the rate hike might cause.

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