A sewer rate plan that would put less of a burden on big industrial users looks to have the backing of several members of the Omaha City Council.
At a public hearing at Tuesday's council meeting, nearly a dozen people spoke in favor of an ordinance that changes the way the city will pay for its approximately $2 billion sewer overhaul.
The new plan, drafted after three years of discussion and eventual meetings with a mediator, would assess commercial and industrial rates in part based on the size of users' water meters. That would mean smaller rate increases for 19 of the city's largest industrial sewer customers, which currently are responsible for 5 percent of bill for the sewer overhaul. In some cases, it would drop rate increases from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.
Meanwhile, it would raise costs for some of the approximately 13,000 other commercial users.
Several council members said that while many people would face higher rates, the plan provides a good compromise. The council will vote on the issue next week.
Speakers at Tuesday's hearing included leaders of some of the large industrial users, who said the new plan would allow them to stay competitive — and stay in Omaha. A group of large industries had warned they might be forced to move to other cities with lower rates.
“Some of these businesses had been pitched other locations in other cities,” Councilman Chris Jerram said. “This compromise provides a framework so they can expand right here in Omaha. I can't underscore the importance of that enough.”
The City Council also heard from others who said the loss of any of the big manufacturers could create a trickle-down affect on area business.
Ron Widman, who runs a South Omaha car dealership, Widman Motors, said most of his customers work at the companies that had raised objections to higher sewer rates. He said his own sewer rates were going up by about $7 per month next year and $11 the following year, but he was willing to take on the burden.
“I want to pay my fair share of the cost of the project,” he said. “Without these companies in the area, my business would definitely be severely impacted.”
Two people spoke against the plan. A representative of the Apartment Association of Greater Omaha and Lincoln said the higher rates for commercial users, which include apartment complexes, would likely mean higher rates for residents.
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