The Omaha City Council has voted 7-0 to increase sewer use fees to pay for a federally mandated sewer separation project. Taxpayers had a chance to have their say prior to the vote.
City officials say 50 to 60 days out of the year, Omaha is dumping raw sewage into the river. That has to stop and it will cost us a lot of money to fix the problem.
The work to separate the sewers was ordered by the federal government but Washington did not send any money for the $2 billion project. All of the work is under way in the eastern part of Omaha but without federal dollars every part of town must help pay.
Harold Iske lives in West Omaha. He says the city should have planned for this expense instead of spending money on stadiums and convention centers.
“I don’t approve of it,” he said. “I don’t think that we should have to pay what they’ve known for years and years had to be done. There’s been a lot of money spent downtown trying to revitalize it when they knew the sewer was gonna have to be fixed.”
The city’s plan to raise the money involves raising the sewer rates over three years, hiking the average bill an extra $15 a month.
On Tuesday, the City Council heard objections to the sewer rate hike from other homeowners. They also heard objections from small business owners who are taking a rate hike beating.
Gloria Gard, with Breeze Cycle, said, “With a $400 a month fee on my water bill I will not be able to continue and that’s before we have the increases. The increases currently would add another $100 a month to my fees.”
Prior to the hearing, Public Works' environmental services manager, Marty Grate, says while expensive, the project will enable cleaner water bodies, and reduce flooding.
He said, "We're making an investment in the community, trying to provide multiple benefits with our investments, and see that the community really benefits from something as opposed to just paying for something they have to do."
The council approved the mayor's fee proposal late Tuesday afternoon.