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Math not so simple in sewer-rate hike
Math not so simple in sewer-rate hike
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Burton Village Council continued debate Monday on whether a 50 percent rate hike for sewers will be too much of a burden for residents.
Councilman Jeff Coleman, who previously expressed opposition to the rate hike, said he "vigorously disagrees" with the current proposal, again calling for a phased-in approach.
He said he would vote to enact hikes of 15 percent, 20 percent and 20 percent as an emergency measure, rather than see a 50 percent hike in the first year. He said gradually raising the rates is something the village should have been doing over the past 20 years.
Council placed an ordinance on second reading to increase sewer charges 50 percent. A second ordinance, also on second reading, would implement annual increases of 3 percent thereafter. A companion piece of legislation to enact 50 percent increases for water rates was expected to be addressed Tuesday by the village's board of public affairs.
Mayor Thomas Blair Sr. said officials should not "point any fingers" at what may have transpired in the past but look to move forward in the best interest of the village. "What we do need to do is be fiscally responsible," he said.
Mr. Blair said he and Curt Johnson, chairman of the board of public affairs, attended another meeting of the Rural Community Assistance Program, which advised the village last summer as to what may be needed in its maintenance program for the water and sewer systems. He said the experts had recommended that the village enact increases of 73 percent to raise sufficient capital to be able to handle maintenance or replacement of machinery and equipment, including the village's water tower.
While the 50 percent increase will be "tough" on residents, he said, it is needed to provide those funds. "The longer we wait, the worse it's going to get," Mr. Blair said.
Mr. Johnson said the village has to start now to save money to be able to handle future expenses.
Raising the rates also may help the village qualify for a zero percent loan through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for replacement or upgrades to the water and sewer treatment plants, he said.
"We're living on borrowed time," Mr. Johnson said. "Not doing this is as dumb as not raising the rates all along."
Village Fiscal Officer Christopher Paquette said, while it appears that following Mr. Coleman's advice would bring the village to the same point, just over a longer period of time, that is not the case. He said a number of factors come into play. The village would be able to raise the capital needed for repairs and upgrades faster, because the 50 percent rate would be collected for two more years than the proposed gradual increase, he said.
In addition, Mr. Paquette said, the phased-in approach could actually cause people to pay more over the three-year period than with the 50 percent hike. If a 20-20-15 phase-in is adopted, residents would be paying $107.64 at the end of three years, based on minimum use of 5,000 gallons, he said, while with the 50 percent hike, the cost would be $103.44 for the same use after three years.
Mr. Johnson said the village will likely be looking to make upgrades in its sewer plant by 2015 and must begin putting away money now to meet those future expenses. "It's imminent," he said.
He said the village also faces regular repairs of water pipes at a cost of $6,000 to $10,000 each time, because many are 80 years old or more. "The only thing we thought about well was putting money away for painting the water tower, but we should have been doing that for everything," Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Coleman said it's the residents who will pay for the village's mistakes, and the only explanation is, "We didn't do well by you."
He said, "I'm just saying we're wrong in doing this. We were wrong in not doing this over the last 20 years."
Mr. Johnson said it's not something officials look forward to doing, but it must be done so that the village will not have to deal with the problem again. "It's not easy. Nobody likes it," he said.
Fellow board of public affairs member Judith Beaumier said the village has to face the situation it is in now and deal with it. "This is the way it is," she said. "This is how it has to be."
Mr. Blair said the past is "water over the dam," and officials must work to address the problem as it now exists.
"We see the problem," he said. "We know what the problem is, and we have to fix it. We have to be fiscally responsible. We've got to bite the bullet. It's the only way I see we're going to get on the right track."
Councilman Gerald Rouge, who previously expressed opposition to the 50 percent hike, said officials only disagree on the best way to reach a point of stability in funding the two systems. "We understand we're in trouble. The only difference is how we go about solving it," he said.
Mr. Blair said the village already made a concession in seeking a 50 percent hike rather than the 73 percent recommended by the experts. "We've got to start somewhere," he said.
Mr. Coleman said, while officials seem to be in a hurry to raise the cash, there has been no mandate by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to "do anything with the water or sewer plant now."
Mr. Paquette said waiting until mandates are issued means the village will have to raise the rates even higher to handle those costs.
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