By Jeff Gallatin
City residents and businesses will be paying more as Bay Village officials continue to take steps to upgrade the city’s sewer system and related infrastructure.
City Council Monday gave final approval by a 5-0 vote (council members Karen Lieske and Dave Tadych were absent) to a $75 annual increase in annual sewer fees for residents and businesses. In addition, it also approved a motion authorizing service Director Scott Thomas to advertise for bids for the repair and renovation of the Walker-Nantucket pump station.
Bay officials made the move after they initially questioned the need several months ago for a large increase and met with the operating board of the treatment plant, which contains representatives from the four cities served by the plant, Bay Village, Fairview Park, Rocky River and Westlake. Bay officials have said the treatment plant board has agreed to find ways to phase out outdated testing methods used in the flow studies, which are the primary way of determining rates for each of the four cities. It also has said the studies likely will be done every three years now, instead of every four.
“The rate increase is unfortunately necessary, and we will continue to take steps to meet federal EPA mandates and make our sewer system as efficient as possible,” Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland said prior to the meeting, “while the repair and renovation at the pump station will help make our infrastructure run as efficiently as possible.”
Currently, owners of a single-family home in Bay pay $260 annually, while businesses pay $24.02 per mcf (1,000 cubic feet) with a minimum charge of $171 annually. However, with the increase approved Monday night, a single family will pay about $335 annually and businesses will pay $30.03 per mcf, but not less than $246 annually.
Both actions were among items discussed at the March 30 town hall meeting at the Dwyer Center. Council President Paul Koomar had set a public hearing about the proposed rate increase to take place at the town hall meeting. Because it was the first town hall meeting in several years, Koomar thought it would be well-attended, allowing city officials to discuss the rate hike as well as field as many questions as possible from a large audience.
During the town hall session, Thomas and city engineer Bob Graytak outlined how the rate increase came about after the last flow study from the Rocky River Wastewater Treatment Plant led to the increase. By law, the sewer fund cannot be run at a deficit.
Residents raised a series of questions during the town hall meeting, such as why there is so much water infiltration into the Bay sewer system, as well as why the other cities are not seeing the same rate jump as Bay Village. The officials said they also were questioning the amount of the increase, but noted Bay Village has made a series of improvements to the sewer system in response to federal EPA mandates, which have likely increased the flow from the Bay system. Bay officials said they hope the changes to the testing methods and doing the studies every three years will provide the most accurate figures for future billing.
At the Monday council meeting, Bela Persanyi, the longtime chairman of the Bay Village Municipal Planning Commission, questioned why they use a flat fee billing rate instead of using a system designed to bill by usage. Persanyi said they should be able to get figures from the Cleveland water department about how much water is used for each account and separate the water and sewer use figures from that.
Sutherland said the city and treatment plant officials are reviewing how the billing is done and that there could be changes made in the future. She said it has been more cost-efficient for Bay Village to bill a flat fee, and that billing for a system based on usage would have to be done by the Cleveland water Department and be much more costly to do.
Sutherland said the city will continue to make upgrades to the sewer system infrastructure in response to EPA mandates and to replace aging equipment.
In explaining the planned improvements to the Walker-Nantucket pump station, Graytak noted it was originally built in the 1950s. He said the project will involve replacing all the outdated equipment and renovating the station to make it more efficient. Current estimates for the work are about $85,000, and officials are planning to get the work done between July and October after the contract is awarded.