By Kevin Kelley
Few products or services have not seen any price increases over the past quarter-century.
Even so, Westlake residents and businesses have not experienced a sewer rate increase since 1986. However, that may change in the near future.
During a Westlake City Council Finance Committee meeting June 26, the administration of Mayor Dennis Clough recommended rate increases over the next three years for both residential and commercial customers.
Under the proposal, announced by finance Director Prashant Shah, residential rates would rise by $5 each year over three years. The current rate is $30 per single-family home per quarter. Commercial rates would rise by $3 each year over the next three years. That rate is now at $8.95 per mcf (1,000 cubic feet).
Westlake sewer rates are the lowest in the Westshore, Shah noted.
The city’s sewer fund is expected to suffer a deficit by the end of 2013, the finance director said. Under the Clough administration’s proposal, any deficit would be delayed until 2017.
Sewer fund expenditures rose 14 percent over the past decade, Shah said, while revenues decreased by 3 percent. The loss of interest income due to low interest rates was a factor in the revenue decrease.
Nearly three-fourths of the sewer fund’s annual payments go to the Rocky River Wastewater Treatment Plant, which treats sewage from Westlake, Rocky River, Bay Village and Fairview Park. Treatment plant expenditures are expected to rise by 5 to 6 percent per year over the next four or five years due to capital expenditures mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Clough and Shah said.
According to the 1985 ordinance that set current sewer rates, 19 percent of the sewer fees collected are set aside for capital improvements within Westlake’s borders, Shah said.
Several council members wanted more data related to Westlake’s sewage flow and financial payments to the treatment plant. Ward 3 Councilman Dennis Sullivan expressed concern that, during severe rainstorms, water from Westlake was not reaching the plant quickly enough, resulting in backups and basement flooding. During heavy rains, stormwater can leak from storm sewer pipes and infiltrate sanitary sewer lines. Ward 1 Councilman Ed Hack wanted assurance that the ratio of fees charged to residents and commercial users was appropriate.
Council has yet to take action on the administration’s recommendation. Members expressed no resistance to fee increases per se, just a concern that the rates paid by Westlake residents and businesses were appropriate.
“Twenty-seven years of fixed sewer rates are going to have to change,” council President Mike Killeen said.