Columbiana council urged to move on water rates

COLUMBIANA The city needs to get moving on a plan to pay back a loan for the new water treatment plant and customers should have a say in that decision, according to some on City Council.

Councilman Dick Simpson urged co-council members Tuesday to make a decision soon regarding water rates, and suggested they move forward with a recommendation by the state Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP) to add a $21 user charge while keeping rates the same.

The city is considering a rate increase – or at least a new rate structure – to cover the cost of paying on the 2-percent interest 40-year United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan for the roughly $22 million project. The city must have a plan in place to show the USDA it can pay back the loan, and RCAP was called on by City Manager Lance Willard to help with a rate study last year following council’s approval.

The loan and a federal grant are covering around $15 million, which was the original estimated cost of the project that has since increased due to additional construction costs mostly related to specific manufacturer’s equipment.

The city has been discussing the need for a new plant since the early 2000s and plans call for it to replace the current one on the same property on the southeast end of town along Metz Road. The existing plant was constructed in 1933 and updated in 1957 and does not feature a back-up system, which the new plant will have.

The project was ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I think we need to proceed with this. It’s been 2006 since this conversation came about,” Simpson said.

He also expressed concern that if the city does not move quickly the current plant could malfunction with no back-up.

Current projections are the new plant will be completed by 2016.

Councilman Dan Bekar agreed with Simpson.

“Councils before did not move on this. I don’t want to be like other communities that have to boil their water. I don’t want to be like other communities that turn the spicket on and it comes out black,” he said.

Mayor Bryan Blakeman, who served on council the last four years, countered previous councils could not move forward because they only recently bid out the project to contractors.

“We just received the cost at the last council meeting. The only thing to me that we could do now is set something low and tier out than hit somebody with a fee,” he said of rates.

He also said in regards to Simpson’s recommendation of the user fee that the city should not move forward with fees or rates just because RCAP is suggesting them.

He said some of the items in the organization’s report weren’t necessary, even by EPA standards.

“There was an ultimate wish list in there,” he said.

Bekar agreed.

“I agree 100 percent with what you are saying. We do need to move forward. What he gave us what the Cadillac. We don’t need to live in a Volkswagen. We can be a nice size Chevrolet,” he said of the information presented by Wayne Canon of RCAP at the last meeting.

Councilman Dick McBane said the information did not include the “what ifs.”

“I think we need to look at what things about the proposal concern us and what way we need to go. Also, the community should have input as well,” he said.

A public hearing was then set for 7:15 p.m. during the March 4 council meeting.