By Kevin Kelley
Legislation that will raise the quarterly sewer rates for single-family homes by 33 percent is currently before Westlake City Council and is expected to pass.
Under the ordinance, which will have its second of three readings before Council Thursday, the single-family quarterly flat rate will go from $30 to $40, effective July 1. Rates for two-family structures, apartment units and commercial properties will also go up. A vote on the hike may come at Council’s May 16 meeting.
If the amount of the hike seems high, consider that rates have not gone up since 1986. Without a rate hike, the city’s sewer fund will run out of money by the end of the year, city officials said. Under the proposed rate hike, the fund would remain solvent until 2018.
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. According to city officials, sewer fund expenditures have risen 25 percent since 2003, while revenues declined 7 percent in the same period.
Rocky River Treatment Plant Expenditures are to increase by 5 percent per year, Westlake Finance Director Prashant Shah said. That figure does not count anticipated mandates from the state and federal Environmental Protection Agency, or other necessary upgrades.
In 2012, the administration of Mayor Dennis Clough proposed a $15 per quarter residential rate increase that would be imposed over three years. However, the administration modified that proposal.
One reason for the change is uncertainty about what upgrades to the treatment plant and sewer system will be required by the EPA, Shah said. The second reason is a desire to charge base on actual water usage, something not currently done for residential customers. Actual water usage data may become readily available to the city if it executes a proposed switch of water suppliers from Cleveland’s Division of Water to Avon Lake Municipal Utilities.
“If we start receiving our water from Avon Lake, we would be in a position to collect actual usage data and thus invoice based on actual usage as opposed to a flat rate,” Shah said. “At this time we are proposing a rate that will sustain the sewer fund until the year 2018. We will revisit the rates at that time.”
Council President Mike Killeen said the rate hike is expected to pass.
“There’s no choice,” he said, alluding to the dwindling sewer fund.
Even after the rate increase, Westlake sewer fees will be at least 50 percent lower than anywhere else in the area, Killeen said.