By Sue Botos
Responding to residents’ requests, City Council has started discussion of legislation proposing sewer billing that reflects only usage and includes no flat rates.
The ordinance, which was placed on the first of three required readings at Monday’s legislative session, calls for a fee of $38 per mcf (1,000 cubic feet of water). Currently, owners of private residences pay $5.16 per mcf and commercial properties $14.51 per mcf, plus fixed quarterly fees ranging from $36.50 for a single-family home to $23.81 for multifamily housing. City officials hope to have the measure in place by the September 2012 billing cycle.
Additionally, in 2007, council passed a flat rate of $25 a quarter for the establishment of a sewer rehabilitation fund. “This is the cornerstone for our success with the EPA. We have been able to leverage this to bring in outside funding,” commented Mayor Pam Bobst at a previous meeting, which introduced the ordinance. The fund, which generates $700,000 annually, is used as incentive for the securing of grants and zero-interest loans for capital improvement projects that have been mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The rehabilitation fund was part of a sewer rehabilitation plan also put in place in 2007. This roadmap was set for 20-25 years and focused on the replacement of inverted sewers. Bobst said that the U.S. EPA had recognized this work already done by the city to modernize the sewer system, some of which has been in place since the early 1900s.
As a rule, sewer rates are reviewed every two years, according to Bobst; however, in 2009, the city received a “findings and orders” review from the U.S. EPA that mandated updating the city’s sewer infrastructure, particularly “inverted sewers,” which allow close proximity of sanitary and storm sewers. The U.S. EPA was also interested in the city’s collection system and the measures taken to prevent runoff from infiltrating Lake Erie and the Rocky River.
“That was not the right time to make an adjustment, so we didn’t do anything at that time. We’ve been taking our time,” added Bobst. She said that city officials were also waiting for more information from the U.S. EPA as well as the Ohio EPA on what exactly needed to be done.
Aside from basing sewer bills only on usage, Bobst pointed out that the ordinance being considered by council will help shore up the city budget, which has been hit hard by state cutbacks, particularly the upcoming elimination of the estate tax in 2013. “This is significant. We only used that for capital improvements,” she stated.
The charge of $38 per mcf was decided upon, according to Bobst, through consultation with surrounding communities, as well as by looking at the history of usage in the city. She noted that in 2010, the city recorded a total usage of 81,600 mcf, and in 2011 that amount climbed to 84,000 mcf. The ordinance would also do away with the $25 sewer maintenance fee.
Several numbers were tested, and the 38 mcf figure was decided upon. “This should raise a half-million above what we’re collecting today,” stated Bobst. She added that the funds will be broken down to service areas including operation, maintenance and replacement of sanitary and storm sewers, wastewater treatment services and cost of debt service, which is the payoff of bonds used for capital improvements.
According to city figures, the average resident uses 2-3 mcf per quarter. The proposed legislation will cause a sight increase to a resident using 2 mcf, up to $76 from the current $71.82. Those who are more frugal, keeping usage to 1 mcf, will see the most savings, with their quarterly bill shrinking from over $66 to $38.
Councilman at Large David Furry remarked, “I’ve had the feeling all along that you should pay to play. Everyone should pay for the system and what goes into it.”
Bobst promised that there would be further discussion, and attention given to any concerns over the proposal in upcoming weeks.