TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners are set to discuss whether to tap the Brown Bridge Trust Fund for $2.2 million in park improvements and increase city residents' sewer bills to cover an $825,000 filter replacement at the wastewater treatment plant.
The sewer plant's operators recommend the city replace one of eight banks of membrane filters to help alleviate the potential for spillage during occasional clogging issues. Officials from the city and five townships that use the plant appear to support the recommendation.
But how to pay for it: that's the issue city commissioners will grapple with when they meet today at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center.
"With our current rate structure we would need to increase the monthly base rate about $3," said Bill Twietmeyer, city treasurer.
A 9 percent increase would bump the monthly charge to $37, and Twietmeyer recommends it go into effect at the start of the city's fiscal year, July 1. Membrane replacement costs will be split with the townships that also use the plant, and Twietmeyer said it will take about a year to pay off.
But because there are eight membrane filters and all are reaching the end of their useful life, Twietmeyer said it's unlikely the price hike will disappear anytime soon.
"I'm not in favor of raising rates, just like I'm not in favor of raising taxes, but this stuff has to be paid for somehow," said city Commissioner Barbara Budros. "I'm going to wait to see what (Twietmeyer) has to say."
Township officials from Acme, East Bay, Garfield, Peninsula, and Elmwood in Leelanau County that share the plant will be watching commissioners discussion about how to divvy up costs.
Twietmeyer said filter replacement is an operational cost that would be divided based on plant usage and split almost evenly.
Some township officials questioned if the membrane replacement is a capital expense divided on ownership share. The city owns 60 percent of the plant. An ownership split would increase the city's bill from $412,500 to $495,000. It would drop the township portion to $330,000.
City commissioners also will revisit a proposal they tabled last August to ask voters in 2014 to tap a trust fund for park improvements.
Royalty payments from oil and gas leases at the Brown Bridge Quiet Area created the fund of about $13.2 million, and interest pays for general city operations. A ballot proposal would ask voters to cap the trust fund and divert royalty payments for five years to city parks. City staff estimates the cap would create about $2.2 million for parks.