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Rocky River considers usage-based sewer rates

In the coming weeks, City Council will consider options for sewer rates that could call for billing based solely on usage.

“In response to residents’ requests, what we’re proposing is establishing a usage rate; a pure usage rate, no flat fees, it will all be based on usage. Of course, it will be well above $5.16,” Mayor Pam Bobst told City Council at its last Committee of the Whole meeting. She added the rate would apply to residential and commercial usage. Current sewer rates combine a $36.50 base rate with a $5.16 charge per cubic foot of usage.

She said that traditionally, rates are reviewed every two years, “to ensure sufficient revenue for the operational needs of the city sewer system.” She said the current sewer rehabilitation fund was established in 2007 and that, in 2009, the city received a “findings and orders” review from the U.S. EPA.

“We understood there was a great deal of work we were going to need to do in response. We needed a strategy to put a plan together,” said Bobst, referring to what she called “180 miles of aging sewer infrastructure,” which includes about 40 streets with the outdated “inverted” sewers, which allow close proximity of sanitary and stormwater lines. Bobst said the EPA was particularly interested in the city’s collection system in the context of protecting runoff from infiltrating Lake Erie and the Rocky River.

“In 2006, we drafted the sewer rehabilitation plan as a roadmap to follow,” continued Bobst, stating this came on the heels of various studies and input by city officials.

“We don’t want to throw good money after bad,” she said, noting some road resurfacing projects will be held off until sewer studies are complete. “They’re not just paving projects. We evaluate what’s underground as part of the work.”

That plan, which was put in place in 2007, was for 20 to 25 years and cost $55 to $60 million. It focused basically on replacement, especially of the 40 inverted sewers, and infiltration, or the mixing of sanitary and storm water.

“The U.S. EPA recognizes that we have done many things,” she stated.

Bobst said that a sewer flow and strength study had been conducted for the Rocky River Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was used as the basis for determining the amount each city using the facility would be charged. The plant is used by Westlake, Fairview Park and Bay Village, as well as Rocky River.

Individuals such as Safety/Service Director Jim Linden and treatment plant superintendent Jeff Harrington were praised by Bobst for their parts in the information gathering. She added that organizations including the Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservancy dealt with public education regarding stormwater runoff.

In 2007, council passed a flat rate increase of $25 a quarter to establish a sewer rehabilitation fund. This generates $700,000 yearly which, Bobst said, is used for incentive when applying for sewer project grants and zero-percent loans.

“This meets some of our needs, but not all. We need to continue looking at sewer rates,” stated Bobst, stressing the city is not part of the North East Regional Sewer District. “This does not apply to Rocky River residents, nor does (its) storm water management fee. We are part of the Rocky River Wastewater Treatment Plant and we are our own sewer district.”

Bobst was especially proud of two documents approved by the U.S. EPA. The first, in what she called the “alphabet soup” of sewer jargon, is the Capacity Management Operation and Maintenance (CMOM), which speaks to infiltration between storm- and sewerwater, and inflow, the illegal addition of storm water to the system by residents through such means as footer drains and downspouts tied into the sanitary sewers.

“We will work closely with them and help them evaluate their particular situation as well as options,” said Bobst, which could include rain barrels and sump pumps.

The second document, the Sewer System Evaluation Study (SSES), will involve the cost study of work on the first three of the city’s 14 sewer sheds – Hampton/Westmoor and two more in the “Tangletown” areas north of Lake Road. The four-year study will run between $3.5 and $4 million.

“We are fortunate to leverage local resources so we can find dollars and secure dollars from outside sources. This is important at the price tag this has become; we can’t pay it all locally,” stated Bobst. She said there are some measures placed before Congress, but Bobst said she is not optimistic about federal funds.

Modeling a sewer rate analysis done in 2002, Bobst reported the city is working on another 10-year projection. This does not include projects now under way. She said a rate analysis for the state was received last year citing 2009 statistics that were based on a family of three using 85 gallons of water per person, per day, for a total of $514 a year. Bobst said the 25th percentile of $364 was far above the yearly average of $310 for Rocky River.

“The U.S. EPA is very serious about what they’ve asked us to do. Their expectations are very high,” continued Bobst. Aside from environmental issues, she stated that failure to comply with orders could result in civil administrative penalties of $16,000 day, civil judicial penalties of $37,000 daily, and/or prison time.

 

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