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Fiscal Court Approves New Sewer Rates

Robert Moore
Herald Staff

The Mercer County Fiscal Court approved an ordinance allowing the Mercer County Sanitation District to increase sewer fees based on the consumer price index, among other indices compiled by the federal government. The ordinance also allows the district to increase their rates to cover a recent rate increase by the City of Harrodsburg. Larry Catlett, the attorney for the sanitation district, said they had received notice from Harrodsburg that sewer rates were being increased by as much as 46 percent. According to the sanitation district, the minimum bill—which is paid by the majority of users—would go from $32 to $37.60 per 2,000 gallons or less. The rate hike goes into effect immediately.

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, the fiscal court gave second reading to ordinance 2022-13, which also allows the sanitation district to make an annual adjustment to sewer rates every year. The new rates would go into effect on July 1.

Hit hard by the rate increase as well as inflation, the sanitation district—which is a nonprofit—is currently operating with a $52,000 deficit.

“We just want to break even,” Catlett told the magistrates. “Hopefully it will balance us.”

Magistrate Dennis Holiday moved to approve the ordinance, with a second from Magistrate Donnie Webb. The motion passed unanimously.

Judge-Executive Scott Moseley has asked the county to make a financial contribution to help the district get back on its feet. Magistrate Tim Darland asked to see their budget.

Mike Sanford, the executive-director for the sanitation district, said he’d provide it. Sanford said $465,000 comes in annually from user fees, with over half of that going to debt service and another quarter for service.

“Some years are good, some years are awful,” Sanford said. “Last year was awful.”

He said the district has been hit hard by price increases for equipment such as pumps, which have doubled in price. Sanford said the district can’t stop providing to service to customers because it gets more expensive. Darland, who said he has had to deal with higher prices in his own business, commiserated.

“You buy it or you quit,” Darland said.

Since the county created the sanitation district in 2005, the goal has been for the district to become self-sustaining. Sanford said he hopes growth and the economy of scale will balance things out. He said they have a good opportunity to reach that goal with the clean water funding becoming available. In particular, he referred to the Gwinn Island project. He said they could possibly come out of the project without having to fund anything themselves.

But Darland said questions have been raised about that project because it’s partly in Boyle County. Sanford said Boyle has made a financial commitment to Gwinn Island.

However, getting funding can be difficult. On some expenses such as engineering fees for services necessary to apply for funds can be reimbursed, but that leaves the district on the hook for those fees until the funding comes through. Then there is the difficulty in bidding out a project when prices are soaring,, which Magistrate Wayne Jackson called a “catch 22.”

Sanford said there is not anywhere they can cut. The seven person staff at Lake Village Water Association also provides the labor for the sanitation district.

“Sometimes it feels like the association is supporting the district,” Sanford said.”The only left to cut is services.”

The fiscal court took no action on making a contribution.

For the rest of the story, check out this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald. Click here to subscribe.

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