MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Township ratepayers will see an increase in their sewer bills, the first since 2012, under an ordinance introduced Monday.

According to Mayor Tim Donohue, residential users will pay about $80 more per year, a move he described as necessary to cover increasing costs for processing at the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority.

“If you extrapolate that by the month, it’s not a lot of money, but people are on fixed incomes. We understand it will hurt some people, but it’s a necessary step,” he said at the meeting.

Township officials have discussed the increasing cost of sewer treatment at the county level and looked for ways to address it, including improvements to its own sewer system. According to Donohue, the township sewer department’s budget has remained level for years, while the county-level costs have skyrocketed.

Part of the reason is because the township’s population has increased while other towns’ have dropped, he said. Rainwater infiltration also is an issue. Cracks in the sewer pipes allow rain and groundwater to enter the system, which means the township ends up paying to treat clean water at the county system.

“The last increase to residential sewer rates was in 2012. Since that time, our costs from the county MUA have gone up substantially,” Donohue said.

Through much of this year, Middle officials have focused on the issue, including meeting with MUA staff. In September, the committee approved a $211,475 contract with the engineering firm Mott MacDonald to evaluate the pumping stations.

Some of the 22 existing stations in the township are more than 30 years old and will need repairs or even replacement. Bringing the older stations up to standard may cost about $200,000 each, and about $50,000 more for the newer stations. Engineers estimate the work will add another 20 years to the useful life of the pump stations.

The township also plans to use cameras to explore the oldest section of the sewer system in Cape May Court House, which was built in 1937 and includes lengths of terra cotta pipes.

“I want to make sure people understand we’re not just jacking up the sewer rate. We’ve taken several proactive steps over the last year to analyze our current system, to budget capital funds to inspect and improve all our pumping stations,” Donohue said at the meeting.

He said the township sewer department has kept the system together for years “with Scotch tape and chicken wire.”

“It’s time to address it, and part of that has to be an increase in the rate,” Donohue said.

Susan Quinones, the township’s chief financial officer, addressed the Township Committee at a workshop meeting earlier in the day.

Since the last rate increase, she said at the sparsely attended work session, the annual cost for sewer treatment has grown from $1.62 million to a projected $2.97 million for 2020, she said.

She said the department used surpluses and sought to control costs to avoid a rate increase for years. Quinones and Donohue said the increase is driven by the increased costs from the county MUA.

Those costs have increased from 40% of the township sewer budget to 60% this year.

Not everyone in Middle Township is a sewer customer. Some sections of the township continue to rely on well water and septic systems, and some use well water and a sewer connection. The township sewer department charges a flat rate, rather than using meters to determine a cost for each customer.

The current cost is $560 a year, set to increase to $640.

A public hearing and final vote on the ordinance are planned for Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. in Township Hall, 33 Mechanic St. in Cape May Court House.

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