Athens Borough residents will see their sewer rates increase by $40 per quarter, beginning in April.

The borough council voted at its Monday meeting to raise sewer rates from $100 per quarter to $140 effective April 1, 2012. Commercial rates will also increase from $5.10 per thousand gallons to $6.80.

The decision follows a proposed sewer rate hike in Sayre Borough, which would also begin in April and is expected to be adopted in December.

Both municipalities have cited the $17 million Valley joint sewer plant upgrade as the primary reason for raising sewer rates. The boroughs, along with Athens Township and South Waverly Borough, will take on a series of loans to finance the upgrade, mandated by state Department of Environmental Protection regulations.

At the council's October meeting, financial adviser Mark Lundquist explained that, based on capacity, Athens Borough is responsible for 25 percent - up to $5 million - of those loans.

In addition, while no breaks were found at the Maple Street pumping station, the inflow at some joints needs addressing due to the amount of water the station took on during the September flood, said borough manager Mark Burgess.

The council also discussed ways they could alleviate the sewer burden for flood-affected customers. However, the borough would not be able to waive the quarterly sewer fees, borough officials agreed.

"We're in a tough spot here," said council president Bill Cotton. "Our heart goes out to those affected, but… we're trying to run a business here."

The council discussed waiving disconnection and reconnection fees for those who would like to detach from the sewer system while their properties are uninhabitable, but a decision was not made.

The borough charges $500 for a disconnection permit, with $400 returned after the disconnection - which involves digging up to eight feet down to cap the sewer system at a property - is complete, Burgess said. A $500 connection fee is also assessed for those who wish to connect a property, with no refunds.

The council would have to amend its sewer ordinance to waive the fees instead of passing a resolution due to the ordinance's language, said borough solicitor Jonathan Foster.

In addition, "very few" people have expressed interest in taking advantage of the disconnection, Burgess said.

"The people who are looking to disconnect are probably tearing down" their properties eventually, said councilman Jeffrey Gallick.

The council also passed a resolution designating Burgess as its agent to work with federal and state emergency management agencies.

Flood-related activities are making progress, borough officials pointed out. The Army Corps of Engineers is currently going through the engineering process to design permanent repairs to damaged portions of the Susquehanna and Chemung river levees, Burgess said. The borough has made temporary repairs in those spots.

"As soon as they let us know when they're going to start, we will have it repaired," Burgess said.

Borough officials are also putting together a group of people to be on a "steering committee," an idea suggested by FEMA officials. Once formed, the 12-to-14-member committee would work on creating a future plan for the borough.

Four or five people have already agreed to serve on the committee, Burgess said.

Council president Bill Cotton said he would like to see one person - likely Burgess - in charge of adding people to the committee.

"Since it is limited in size, I think we ought to leave it to one person" before the committee's membership rate snowballs, Cotton said.

The council also agreed to advertise the 2012 tax rate at 18 mils, unchanged from 2011. The proposed tax rate is expected to be adopted at the council's Dec. 19 meeting.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or e-mail: arenko@thedailyreview.com.