At their March 13 meeting, members of the New Richmond City Council voted unanimously to approve the recommendation from the Utility Commission to support the Phase 0.5 upgrades to the West Central Wisconsin Biosolids facility located in Ellsworth.
Those upgrades include increasing the biosolids holding tank capacity (1 day), replacement of the HVAC system, off loading screener, sludge and centrate tank mixing systems, truck scale and building expansion to house the increased holding tank capacity.
The projected cost for the upgrades, $9,412,000, is slightly higher than the estimate of $9.2 million.
There are two more phases being contemplated for the facility at a total cost, including Phase 0.5, of $28-30 million. No money has been spent on this project yet.
Biosolids are a product of the wastewater treatment process. During wastewater treatment the liquids are separated from the solids. Those solids are then treated physically and chemically to produce a semisolid, nutrient-rich product known as biosolids or sludge. That sludge is transported to the processing facility in Ellsworth.
The biosolid is run through a centrifuge to further remove water leaving a substance called cake.
According to West Central Biosolids, the cake is processed “using a lime stabilization system to reduce odor, remove pathogens and produce a better and more stable fertilizer that can be used as an alternative for chemical fertilizers.”
In 1995, the City of New Richmond joined ten other municipalities in an agreement to handle the storage, treatment and disposal of biosolids. Aging infrastructure and increased demand at the Ellsworth facility have necessitated the improvements and upgrades proposed in phases 0.5, 1 and 2.
Based on the proposed improvements and upgrades, the cityreevaluated its 2018 sewer rate study in 2022.
The last substantial rate increase of 16% for the sewer utility took effect in 2019. The utility increased rates again in 2022 by 3%.
Based on the reevaluation conducted by Trilogy Consulting, a minimum annual increase of 4% is recommended for 2023 through 2029 to provide the city with adequate revenues to cover inflationary increases to expenses, future capital needs and debt service, and stabilization of utility reserves. The impact of the initial 4% increase is $1.19 per month for the average residential customer.
The council is expected to vote on a 4% rate increase at its April 10 meeting.
City Financial Director Rae Ann Ailts said the city is projecting another 4% increase in 2024 plus an additional 11% for the biosolids project for a total of 16% in 2024 and another 4% increase in 2025.
Trilogy’s rate analysis projects an additional rate increase of 12% in 2026 in relation to the capital improvements at the biosolids facility.
All proposed rate increases must be approved by the city council.
Part of the steeper rate increase in 2026 is due to the decision by River Falls to leave the coalition to build its own biosolids facility, a route New Richmond is leaving on the table.
“The City of New Richmond and Utility Commission have supported the 0.5 phase prior and remain supportive. However, before moving onto subsequent phases we will be evaluating internal and external options,” Ailts said.
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