Council closer to returning tap-in authority to Weingart

SALEM – City Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart is one step closer to regaining authority to approve water and sewer service applications.

The Utilities Committee of city council agreed Tuesday to recommend returning the approval power to the utilities superintendent or his designee instead of requiring action by the city Utilities Commission.

“It’s more to allow the expediting of sewer service and water service taps,” Weingart said.

Prior to 2009, the superintendent had the authority to approve tap-ins to existing or future approved water mains both inside and outside the city, with the exception of the Salem-Elkton Water Main. The superintendent also had the power to approve the extension of water and sewer mains within the city.

In 2009, the ordinance was changed to take the authority away from the superintendent and give it to the Utilities Commission, meaning anyone who wanted to get water or sewer service had to make a formal request through a commission meeting. The commission meets once a month. At the time, the city was coming out of the situation with the proposed fire district and Weingart said the commission felt a need to have the authority.

At the time, there was a slump in building and construction, but now he said there’s an upswing. Projects could get bogged down due to the delay in getting approval for a tap-in. Also, the commission usually relied on the recommendation of the superintendent or assistant superintendent anyway.

“I like to see government work at the speed of business,” Utilities Assistant Superintendent Matt Hoopes said.

During their meeting last month, the commission agreed to request that the ordinance be changed back, giving the power to the superintendent instead of the commission as a way to keep projects moving. The policy change was being recommended to expedite the process for applications where water mains and sanitary sewer mains have already been installed by the developer or are already available.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey, a member of the committee, asked why the change was made in the first place. Weingart said he couldn’t answer for what was in somebody’s mind, but he felt it may have been because of the heated debate over the fire district issue, the commission wanted to slow down anything that could have an effect on the department’s operation.

She also asked if a person not happy with his decision has recourse. He said they would still have the ability to take an appeal to the Utilities Commission. Any applications for extension of water mains or sewer mains outside the city remain under the perview of the Utilities Committee and city council.

She also asked about use of the Elkton Federal Prison Water Main. Weingart explained that they’ve begun using part of the line to extend water to the Columbiana County jail and other facilities near County Home Road. He explained that most of the 20-inch line is unused because there wouldn’t be enough users along the way to keep the water from getting old since it’s such a large line.

The amendment will now fall before city council.