The head of Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District says his agency will continue to make the case for a substantial rate increase to invest in the city’s aging sewer and flood protection infrastructure.
For two consecutive years, Metro Council has declined to take up proposals to allow the MSD board to substantially hike user rates. The board only has the power to raise rates 6.9 percent annually; both years, MSD officials have requested 20 percent rate increases.
MSD Executive Director Tony Parrott said the district’s 20-year critical infrastructure plan — which will require up to $4.3 billion in additional funding — lays out issues that are vital to the community’s health and safety.
For the past two years, Parrott has been telling lawmakers that Louisville’s infrastructure is crumbling. Last month, as if to prove his point, a 102-inch sewer pipe collapsed at the intersection of Main and Hancock streets. The pipe was installed in 1948. There are other, older sections of the sewer system, too.
“When you have systems that are stressed and systems that are aged, the first thing that happens is they start to leak and they start to collapse,” Parrott said. “And then the roadway which they sit under gets washed away and that cave-in occurs. We have to be out in front of those type of issues.”
But MSD is also under a federal consent decree to reduce the frequency that wastewater — including untreated sewage — is legally released into public waterways like Beargrass Creek and the Ohio River. That $850 million project is required to be finished by 2024; until it’s done, Parrott said without a hefty rate hike, MSD will not have additional money to spend on improving infrastructure.
Other cities in the region — including Cincinnati, Cleveland and St. Louis — have consent decrees and aging infrastructure, too. But those cities wrapped critical infrastructure repair into the consent decree. Louisville did not.
Parrott said he is continuing the conversation with Metro Council members about what kind of rate increase might be able to get sufficient lawmaker support. When the plans have come before the body in the past, members have raised concerns about rate increases’ effects on low-income residents.
“The last proposal on the table was to kind of phase it in over four years,” Parrott said. “I think there’s still an appetite to do that.”
That proposal would have given the MSD board temporary authority to raise rates up to 10 percent for four years.
“So, we’re working with Mayor (Greg) Fischer and the sponsors, to figure out how do we continue that dialogue, and how do we get folks to a point to where they understand that it is better that we deal with these risks now as opposed to kicking the can down the road,” Parrott said.