Nov 20, 2018

Dispute Erupts Over Sewer Bills in South Dakota

Councilor Theresa Stehly has been publicly questioning the need for the project in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Councilor Theresa Stehly has been publicly questioning the need for the project in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Councilor Theresa Stehly has been publicly questioning the need for the project in Sioux Falls, S.D.

In South Dakota, Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken is confronting Councilor Theresa Stehly after she spread misleading information about a planned $260 million sewer plant expansion.

According to the Argus Leader, City Hall says a series of sewer rate increase no higher than 6% are all that is needed to fund an expansion of the water reclamation facility. The expansion will fund the network of pipes and lift stations that service it.

Stehly has been publicly questioning the need for the project and the rate projection provided by the Public Works Department to justify the project, according to the Argus Leader.

“We got a $12 million payment a year, sorry, we’re going to up your payment to $300 a month,” Stehly said at a meeting, voicing concern on how the city will pay for the project. The project would be the largest capital project in Sioux Falls history.

She also made a similar statement during a television interview, which caught TenHaken’s attention. The mayor sent out an email on Nov. 16 to Stehly, her City Council colleagues, select city staff and members of the media.

“Unfortunately, this week you broke a sacred trust elected leaders have with their constituents,” TenHaken said in the email. “As elected officials we have an obligation to present factual information to the public. Spreading such misinformation when factual projections have been presented to you is a disservice to your constituents and I’m disappointed you knowingly spread this false information.”

According to the Argus Leader, Public Works expect the average residential sewer customer would see their monthly utility bills go up by $6.17 between 2020 and 2023 under the proposed increases. The projections are based on the population in the city and the region the sewer plant serves.

“The $300 per month state is an absurd assertion,” TenHaken wrote. “There are 48, 611 single-family resident accounts in Sioux Falls for wastewater. So far this year, only 0.43% had a monthly bill exceeding $100.”

Stehly is still standing by her statements. She said her comments were aimed at raising questions and were not to be taken as fact. According to Stehly, she was speculating what could happen if the city’s population growth slows.

"We're talking about taking out debt based on speculative population growth," she said to the Argus Leader. "After living through 2008 and the market crash, I've learned to be very cautious in trying to plan for the future."

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