- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - Fort Smith city directors voted Tuesday to increase sewer rates by 60 percent in an effort to raise money to pay for almost $500 million in sewer system improvements.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1am66Uu ) reports the directors passed the ordinance 6-1 on Tuesday. It will raise volume and billing charges three times over the next 20 months.

According to calculations by Fort Smith consultant Burns & McDonnell, the typical household in Fort Smith will see its sewer bill increase from $19.63 a month to $32.83 after May 1. On Jan. 1, 2017, that bill would increase to $52.70.

The funds collected will help the city become compliant with the federal Clean Water Act as mandated by a consent decree filed against the city by Arkansas, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice.

Fort Smith agreed to repair its sewer system so that it no longer dumps untreated or undertreated sewage into the Arkansas River. The city also agreed to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows and improve its maintenance practices. The city will spend about $480 million over 12 years on the improvements.

“No one is excited about doing this,” Mayor Sandy Sanders said. “But the time has come. We’ve been on the clock since Jan. 2.”

City officials say more than $200 million has already been spent over the past 13 years to work on improving the system. They say 80 percent of sewer system overflows has already been eliminated.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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