Still need a New Year’s resolution?
East Baton Rouge Parish residents might want to consider ways to cut back on their water use because they are about to get hit once again with higher sewer bills.
The annual, uncapped increase means parish residents will pay 4 percent more to wash clothes, draw baths and run dishwashers as the city-parish continues to pay off the debts owed for its costly program to fix and improve its sewer system.
The work should prevent overflow from gushing into the streets during heavy rains, but it comes at a price. For the average family that goes through 8,600 gallons of water a month, bills will rise from $43.92 a month to $45.67.
Annually, sewer fees will reach close to $550 for the average family — up more than $20 from 2014.
Sales taxes also are helping to foot the bill for sewer improvement work.
“It’s going to vary by customer,” said Mark LeBlanc, assistant public works director for capital improvements.
Sewer fees have been climbing since 2004, after the Environmental Protection Agency mandated that Baton Rouge perform a $1.3 billion overhaul to its sewer system.
LeBlanc said the city-parish has close to $1 billion in debt and that sewer fees in 2015 should generate around $77.5 million.
In 2004, sewer fees were just shy of $30 a month for the average family.
LeBlanc said the finish line is in the distant future for when fees will reach a cap.
He predicted that fees could level off in the mid-2020s, as the program reaches a close in 2018. By then, the changes should allow for storage drains to contain 4½ inches of rain that falls during a 12-hour storm.
In the past, Metro Council members have expressed concerns over the ever-ballooning bills.
“I want to see at what point we could terminate it,” Councilwoman Tara Wicker told The Advocate in the past. “I don’t know what’s needed for us to keep up with the maintenance and upkeep, but personally I’d like to see it sunset and give those dollars back to the citizens.”
Council member John Delgado said that while nobody enjoys paying more money, it’s the necessary cost of updating the sewer system.
“Honestly, it’s the price you need to pay to have working plumbing,” he said.