The Long Lake city council adopted an ordinance amending the city’s residential sewer billing policy during its Dec. 1 meeting.

The adjusted phrase in the policy removes the practice of using a resident’s first quarter water usage as a “do not exceed usage” for calculating residential sewer bills each quarter for the full year. All Long Lake businesses are playing sewer based on actual usage. .

“What we’re trying to do is come up with a fair and equitable way to capture some revenues based on usage and not on average and that would ultimately help us repair the system that is in need,” Scott Weske, city administrator, said.

Weske said the city’s sewer fund is budgeted to have a deficit of $175,000 for 2020 and an estimated deficit of $200,000 in 2021. The policy change has the possibility to bring in approximately $30,000 to $60,000 in 2021.

The deficit stems from a large amount of the sewer fund going to the Metropolitan Council, officials said. The city’s sewer flow is treated at their facilities and then the Metropolitan Council calculates the city’s sewer flow usage and charges it back to the city. The city is having issues keeping track of how much water is being contributed to the sewer system through groundwater.

City staff are recommending an exploration of possible rate increase scenarios in 2021, as well. The city adopted an increase in 2018, but that rate was reduced due to lack of support. At the time, the community showed an interest in being charged for what they are actually using rather than being charged a flat base rate.

Orono Public Schools board member Mike Bash noted his concerns for the change during the meeting. Citing his background in utilities, Bash stated he understands what the city is trying to do; however, he said he believes it is not fair or equitable for residents who live in town year-round because they are not contributing any more to the sewer.

The city recommended a second option for residents. An irrigation meter could be installed that monitors outside usage only. Weske said this could be a good option for those who water their lawns or fill pools during the summer months to not be charged the sewer portion of that usage.

Public Works director Sean Diercks estimated that it would take a plumber approximately one hour to install an irrigation meter. Weske estimated that a five-eighths-inch meter costs about $260 and a 1-inch meter could be had for $406. Residents would also need a plumbing permit for meter installation.

There are 28 active accounts within the city that currently have irrigation meters. Weske estimated approximately 80 percent to 90 percent of residents might not notice a significant difference in their bill but that they could see a change if there is a leak, a toilet runs overnight or based on the frequency their water softener regenerates. The ordinance took effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

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