Gainesville's public utilities department is increasing industrial surcharge fees for the first time in 15 years.
Based on a tiered system, the fees could go up more than 36 percent. For some chemicals, this means a $0.005 increase per milligram per liter.
"The percentages look large, but the increase is really small," said Kelly Randall, director of public utilities. "That 36 percent of 0 is still almost 0, and when you look at the actual dollar amount, it's minimal."
The fees apply to large industrial and commercial users that have excess pollutants in their wastewater. Public utilities employees test water from all businesses, and the charges apply to businesses with high levels of chemicals.
"This is not a fee that they have to pay," said Horace Gee, the city's environmental services administrator. "This is optional. If they do their job, and we don't have to spend our time, our chemicals, our power, they can eliminate every one of them."
The department hasn't studied the fees since 1995, largely due to budget constraints. The analysis was "very eye-opening," Gee said.
"The program is a way to recover our treatment costs for industrial and commercial users that are not effectively treating their water," Gee said. "Some are leaning on us to help them treat their water."
If the department followed the study's recommendation to balance the program based on operational costs, the rates would go up more than 300 percent.
"We knew it was our fault for not increasing the fees over the years and knew it wouldn't be palatable to recommend such a large increase," Gee said. "The proposed rate, which is a tenth of that, won't get us in line with the costs, but we can recover more of the operational costs without harming the industry."
In March, about 15 industries paid surcharge fees ranging from $4 to $3,000. In April, 16 companies paid similar fees.
"A small minority of our users are subject to this, and about six of them are on the list each month," Gee said. "We've talked with the industries, and they understand the increase."
Public utilities employees visually inspect wastewater from the city's five largest industries each day and physically inspect samples once a week.
These industries include Gainesville's poultry companies.
For the next five largest industries, employees test samples every other week. For the five industries following that, they test samples once a month.
"They know what to expect, and many send out samples to a contract lab to make sure they're coming up with the same results as we are," Gee said. "They put so much importance on their water treatment that I worry very little about problems with our industries. If any of them have a pump go out, they call me and I work with them."
The public utilities department will now study the surcharge fees every five years, which will line up with the department's five-year study of the cost of service.
"Essentially, it's a user fee so we don't spread the cost over single-family dwellings," Randall said. "This way, the people who are using the service for wastewater treatment pay for the service."