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Leetonia council reviewing proposed sewer rate hike

LEETONIA — Council members will take the next two weeks to consider possible sewer rate increases presented by village administrators Wednesday night.

At a water and sewer committee meeting, Fiscal Officer Randy Chismar and other village administrators recommended an increase of $3 to the minimum rate and $1.42 per 1,000 gallons after the minimum 1,000. The increases would generate $65,000 annually, but would only pay for the current operational costs of the wastewater plant.

Council earlier this month asked Chismar and the administrators to develop a recommendation for increases after Mayor Kevin Siembida reported the sewer operating fund will be depleted by the end of the year due to inflation and a reduction in the rates five years ago when council paid off a loan.

The current rates are $24.95 for the minimum and $2.55 for every 1,000 gallons over 2,000. The change in rates would push the minimum to $27.95 for the minimum and $3.97 per 1,000 gallons over the minimum, which is decreased to 1,000.

Chismar said the recommendation is the best option to as evenly as possible share the burden of the increase on both the customers who use a small amount of water, such as single residents, and those who use a large amount, such as businesses.

A second recommendation called for an increase to the minimum to $32.20 with the usage rate remaining the same, which would also generate $65,000 annually, but council did not give it much discussion due to it placing the full burden on customers who use less water.

Siembida also recommended combining the water and sewer rate ordinances, which would be made possible by lowering the sewer minimum to 1,000 gallons, the same as the water minimum. Council would then determine how the rates are distributed between the two funds.

Administrators also suggested council consider a rate ordinance that projects multiple years into the future, including increases for each year to avoid an annual occurrence of a funding shortage.

Chismar suggested an effective date of Jan. 1 for the rate increases, but Siembida said he wanted the ordinance to go through all three readings so residents have a chance to share their opinions. Since the billing cycle for January is not sent out until the end of the month, council will have until that time to pass an ordinance effective Jan. 1.

Council members will also be taking the next two weeks to consider possibly making the increase even greater in order to start saving money for future repairs identified in the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA)’s CMOM (Capacity Management Operations and Maintenance) program, or asset management review for waste water, created in 2018. The CMOM suggested increasing rates 35 percent in 2019, 20 percent in 2020 and 3 percent each year through 2027, taking the minimum rate up to $48.26 per month to address increased operational costs and upgrades to an aging infrastructure of damaged water and sewer lines.

Council President JR Ferry suggested immediately returning to the 2015 rates of $39.95 on the minimum while bumping the usage rate to $3.97 per 1,000 gallons over the minimum 1,000. His suggestion would generate $133,000 annually, but place more burden on the smaller customers, which some on council wanted to avoid. He said a return to the 2015 rates would still have given customers five years of lower rates.

Council members asked that Chismar provide figures for reaching the $133,000 yearly revenue, but spread out between the minimum and usage rates.

Council members will discuss the issue and authorize Village Solicitor Walter Newton to draft legislation at a water and sewer committee meeting following the next council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at village hall.

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