Omaha asks for sewer funding help


February 24th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Omaha would get some help from the state to fund its multi-billion dollar sewer renovation project. That’s if an appeal to the Revenue Committee is allowed to go through.

Omaha's mandated sewer overhaul project would stop sewer overflow from dumping into the Missouri River (Photo courtesy Omaha CSO)

Omaha faces a looming tab in the multiple billions of dollars. It’s the projected cost to pay for a federally mandated sewer overhaul project. Work has already begun, and it’s expected to take more than a decade to complete. In the meantime, Omaha ratepayers will start to see their bills climb.

“We are raising our rates substantially,” said Marty Grate, Director of Public Works for the City of Omaha. “A typical household this year will pay about $16/month for sewer fees. In 2014, that same household will pay $37/month. We have large industries in Omaha who will see increases over the next three years in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Grate testified before the Legislature’s Revenue Committee in support of a bill introduced by State Senator Heath Mello of Omaha. The bill would turn back sales tax revenue, gathered from climbing sewer rates, to the city of Omaha: a similar financing model to what was used to finance the Qwest Center. But that would mean the state would give up that revenue – potentially millions of dollars. Grate was asked just how much difference that funding would make to the project.

“We’ve got a $1.7 billion project, and this will bring back $46 million,” Grate said. “$46 million is a lot of money and I think it’ll be helpful to our ratepayers, but it’s not going to suddenly make the bonds go away, or get it done. But it’s enough money that will be helpful to minimize some of these rate increases that we would otherwise have to impose.”

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle joined several other supporters of the bill, including the League of Nebraska Municipalities, the Metropolitan Utilities District, and the cities of Lincoln and Plattsmouth. No one spoke in opposition, and the Committee must still decide whether to advance it to the full legislature for debate. Committee members raised several concerns, and noted other cities around the state have had to fund similar projects, and have not received special funding clauses.

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