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Metro Council Budget Committee Delays MSD Rate Hike Vote

MSD sewer repair
A 102-inch sewer pipe, installed in 1948, collapsed Aug. 30, causing sections of roadway at the intersection of Main and Hancock streets to cave in.

The Louisville Metro Council's budget committee delayed a vote on a proposed Metropolitan Sewer District rate increase Thursday.

MSD is again seeking to raise rates to cover expenses for what it says are necessary infrastructure upgrades. The measure has failed passage in Metro Council in the past, most recently last year.

MSD can raise rates 7 percent annually. It asked Metro Council for the authority to raise rates up to 10 percent a year over the next four years.

A spokeswoman said the increased rate would add about $10 to the average bill, which goes out every two months.

As vital infrastructure continues to crumble across the city, the agency is looking for ways to cover $4 billion for a 20-year plan aimed at curbing neighborhood flooding and preventing sewer collapses, MSD executive director Tony Parrott told the Committee on Thursday.

"We have a century-old infrastructure where the city has outgrown the system," Parrott said. "We do see an increased frequency of storms, which is leading to flooding, wastewater backups collapsing in our roads and the revenue that we have is really just dealing with a band-aid approach."

He called for a more comprehensive solution.

MSD has spent some $700 million on projects for the federal consent decree to reduce sewage overflows into the Ohio River. The deadline for that project is 2024. MSD is not able to do much beyond consent decree work with its current budget, Parrott said.

The committee was split on supporting the potential rate increase.

Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, of District 3, was one of those opposed. She has criticized similar plans in the past.

She said nearby suburbs and small cities such as Shively, which she represents, are not paying their fair share for inland drainage programs.

Woolridge said she would prefer to see MSD focus on consent decree work.

"If they continue to raise fees and taxes, I think it’s absolutely reprehensible," she said. "Anytime somebody comes in here and needs additional money, we just can say, 'Get 14 votes and you can get this money.'"

Mayor Greg Fischer is in support of the current MSD ask. That has not always been the case.

Much of the local infrastructure, including sewers, is aging. On average, MSD responds to nine cave-ins a month, spokeswoman Sheryl Lauder has said. Last month, it temporarily closed part of Sixth Street to repair a collapsed 30-inch brick sewer line that was installed before 1900.

In recent days, MSD has dealt with failing flood pumps as the city faced a deluge that brought on near-historic levels of flooding.

An overhaul to the flood system would cost $638 million, MSD said.

Some Louisville residents say a rate hike would be worth preventing further damage despite the cost.

"For the sake of all Louisvillians, it would have to pass. It’s going to hurt like heck but we have to do something," Hikes Point resident Jeff McKeller told WFPL in January.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.