Greater Chillicothe Sanitary District sewer user rates increase

Marianne Gillespie

Most people tend to think it stinks when a regular bill increases, but in the case of the Greater Chillicothe Sanitary District, the alternative could really be stinky.

"When we raised the rates, we did so reluctantly, but we had no choice," said district's longtime attorney, Richard "Dick" Laukitis.

Chillicotheans' sanitary bills increased by 30 percent in January — $2.60 to $3.37 per 100 cubic feet in order to pay for the replacement of an anaerobic digester cover. The cover is a plate, 50 feet in diameter, that sits above the waste tank, explained Laukitis. As the methane rises, the lid is lifted and the methane is burnt.

By the time all the bills were added up for the replacement — $150,000 to make the cover; $437,800 to the contractor, Leander Construction Inc., to install; and at least another $100,000 for an engineering service agreement — the sanitary board approved borrowing $900,000 from Busey Bank, Laukitis said. The board is comprised of president Margaret "Maggie" Hurd, clerk John Merdian and William "Bill" Prather.

Hurd referred questions to Laukitis for explanation.

Busey gave the district an interest rate at about 2.5 percent, Laukitis said. "We've really gone out of our way to get the best rate we can."

The project is now near completion and came in under the cost anticipated, Laukitis noted.

The sanitary sewer plant was built in 1963 and while there have been repairs made in the last 50 years, "It's now worn out," Laukitis said.

"This is a very old facility," Laukitis said. "We've run it extremely efficiently, but things need to be replaced."

While the sanitary district does receive a small amount of property tax money, it only accounts for 20 percent of its funds, with the rest coming from user fees.

On top of the expensive cover that was replaced, more immediate repairs need to be made.

"It that's not bad enough, at the Chillicothe Public Library there's a facilities report from our engineers that states we need an estimated $3.2 million," Laukitis said of the inch thick report that includes a large amount of repairing and replacing needed at the plant.

In the report, "Wastewater Facility Plan" prepared by Baxter & Woodman Inc. as the consulting engineers in August 2013, it states, "A significant portion of the equipment is operating beyond the expected lifetime."

The plant was designed for a population of 8,000, but Chillicothe remains around 6,000. While it was built in the 1960s, it was upgraded in 1970 and again in 1993.

Of the many items the report states need to be replaced, it includes raw sewage pumps, lift station generator and much more. Included with many of the items is upgrading wiring or plumbing as it connects to the equipment.

The recommended plan includes a time frame of up to five years from now and future improvements up to the next 20 years with a 2013 cost of up to $4.15 million.

Also on the horizon are anticipated regulatory changes which would affect the district's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Service permit, the report notes. Specifically, changes are expected in the amount of ammonia effluent limits, or the amount of ammonia that the district can discharge into the Illinois River.

The board recently made an application to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for a low-interest loan, but has not received word yet of its status.

Laukitis said future increases are expected to make the needed improvements, but figures can be higher in engineering reports than when companies place bids for the project.