SELLERSBURG — It’s been several years since Sellersburg adjusted its wastewater and water rates, and the town council is left facing some tough decisions to grapple with capacity and infrastructure issues.
Rate increases are likely ahead, but especially when it comes to sewer works, the town doesn’t have much of a choice.
Sellersburg Town Manager Charlie Smith said the utility received an early warning notice from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management because capacity at the wastewater plant was close to 90%. That prompted a rates study, which was presented to the town in late December.
With aging lift stations and a treatment facility nearing full capacity, Smith said IDEM’s notice was basically a way of warning Sellersburg that “You have to do this, period, or you’re going to incur costs and fees and you’re not going to be able to add anything new to your system.”
Both options proposed include expanding the treatment facility through a $24 million project. The least expensive option, funding only the plant expansion, would see average bills for 4,000 gallons of monthly use rise from $22.85 to $49.32.
The other option, which would allow for additional sewage infrastructure projects along with the plant expansion, would result in an average bill of $56.01 monthly.
For the same amount of use, the average bill in Clarksville is $44.32 and $53.37 in Jeffersonville, according to the rates study.
Smith, who was hired last year, said Sellersburg wastewater rates haven’t been adjusted since 2007, and that they were actually decreased at the time.
Mandates and capacity requirements require funding and Smith said it’s been difficult since rates haven’t been adjusted in several years.
“We’re having a hard time affording and maintaining our system let alone paying for an expansion,” he said Friday.
The rates study also included the town’s water utility.
“Everybody knows we’ve had a lot of water main issues historically in Sellersburg,” Smith said. “We’ve just gotten to a point where our infrastructure, especially in town, is very brittle.”
The town council is likely to consider a water rate increase after being presented with multiple options in the study.
The average monthly bill is about $22.70 now. The options range from an increase to $29.74 up to $51 monthly based on what path the town chooses. Such as with sewer rates, the water increase amount would consider how much the town wants to address in terms of infrastructure.
Both utilities play major roles not just in residential service, but also in economic development. Without expanding capacity, Sellersburg can’t take on additional subdivisions or business projects unless others are taken off the system.
Additionally, state law requires such improvements to be footed through rate collections, not tax funds. That means rates must be raised to fund the projects.
Smith didn’t blame past town leaders for not addressing the rates before, but he did credit the current town council for taking up the issue.
“I think what this conversation is going to be is that the town needs to do a better job of managing the rates of utilities,” he said.
Addressing utility issues is also one of the aims identified in Sellerburg’s 2040 masterplan that was adopted by the town council last year.
Ratepayers have been notified about the potential increases through a mailer and have been invited to two public workshops, Smith said.
Both workshops will be at Sellersburg Town Hall. The first is slated for 6 p.m. Wednesday, and the second for 5 p.m. Jan. 25, which is the same night the council is expected to begin deliberation on potential rate increases.
Smith said the town has a few months to decide its path and there are options. For example, he said, the council might elect to break-up the rate increases over a few years instead of implementing them at once.
COVID-19 protocols will be in effect for the workshops, and the public will be allowed to comment. For more information, go to the website sellersburg.org.