Water and sewer services will cost about $25 more a month for Polson residents after the city commission voted earlier this month to increase rates.
The Polson City Commission voted on the increase at its Sept. 3 meeting. Officials says the increase is necessary to finance a new $19 million wastewater and sewage treatment plant and the replacement of water mains beneath downtown.
Although it’s a steep increase, it could have been much worse. Earlier this year, officials estimated bills would go up nearly 300 percent, to $90 a month. Now, residents will pay about $60 a month.
“This $25 increase is still difficult for our community, but we still need to do something to get the ball rolling on these (improvement projects),” Polson Mayor Heather Knutson said. “I feel that this was a very responsible result.”
Knutson said the rates would have to increase again at some point in the future. She said city officials are currently studying the timeline in which the treatment plant project could take place, adding that prolonging the construction of the project could help spread out the costs.
Knutson said the city has known for more than a decade that it would need to improve its water and sewage systems but never did anything to raise the rates until now. In early 2013, the Polson City Commission began looking at the improvements that would be needed and the costs associated with such projects. Earlier this year, the commission decided to proceed with improvements and on July 7 it discussed the rate increases at a packed public meeting.
While Knutson and City Manager Mark Shrives understand that increases are a hardship, both officials said it’s necessary to pay for the water and sewage improvements. Shrives said the sewage treatment plant does not meet standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency that will go into effect in 2018. He also said the sewage lagoons are outdated and are approaching the end of their usefulness.
Had the city replaced the sewage plant in 1999 it would have cost about $8 million, Shrives said, but now it will cost upwards of $18 million. The new treatment plant would also have advanced technology that would disinfect water with an ultraviolet light system. The improvement would help protect Flathead Lake and the river.
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