Committee discusses water, rate increases

EAST LIVERPOOL — During his first meeting as head of city council’s refuse/recycling/utilities committee, Councilman Brian Kerr said he hopes to take some items off the plate of Service-Safety Director Brian Allen.

Kerr said the utilities committee is now the “closest we can get to the Board of Public Utilities,” referring to a decision more than a year ago by council to disband the BPU, which resulted in the board’s authority to revert to the SSD’s department.

Without elaborating, Kerr said he wants to get some legislation passed that will “make things go quicker.”

Part of the committee’s discussion Wednesday centered on water and rate increases, with Kerr saying his goal is to have an upcoming sewage rate increase that takes effect in September “be the last for awhile.”

Kerr said he wants to see the utilities departments work with Allen to capture more water, making sure it’s leaving the plant and being accounted for and asked the best way to remedy a dirty water problem at the end of lines.

Utilities Director Tim Clark told him, “If you plan on holding rates stagnant, these kinds of projects aren’t available to you without grants,” adding that, although grant funding is available, there is competition for it among communities.

Saying the old infrastructure needs repaired, Kerr said, “People are tired of rate increases. I want to improve infrastructure without that.”

Councilman Fred Rayl, who is not a committee member but sat in on the meeting, and who is a former BPU member, said, “Right now, the money isn’t there. There are a lot of reasons we’re in the predicament we’re in, but the reality is we have to find a way to pull out of it. Grants are available, but, like Tim said, there’s a long list of people (vying for them). I can’t see how you can see doing it if you can’t raise rates.”

Allen said he doesn’t think the city can ever take the possibility of rate increases off the table since the Environmental Protection Agency can come in and mandate upgrades at any time.

Kerr pointed out sewage rates just increased over a three-year period, with the final increase the one upcoming in September, and Clark told him, “If you want to maintain the sewage plant as it should be, you need to put money into it.”

Kerr conceded, then, a plan has to be put together if a rate increase is needed so that it is adequate, saying, “Let’s make sure we don’t have to come back the next year.”

Rayl advised him that, even with the 14 percent water hike last year, the city’s rates are lower compared to other communities.

Allen advised Kerr that projects will be looked at to determine if water rate increases are needed, but emphasized, “We will keep rates at a level to maintain operations. Those rates are set in my office. You still have sewage (rates).”

As the city’s system is set up, formerly the BPU, and now the SSD, has authority over setting water rates, while city council sets sewage rates.

Sewage Superintendent Jeff Cameron reminded Kerr, “There is stuff (that arises) beyond our control, if you say you’re never going to raise rates.”

Clark pointed out that Cameron was able to accomplish $350,000 worth of projects in the sewage department due to the most recent rate increase and noted that the customer base has dropped from 6,235 to 5,100 over 15 years, resulting in a loss of revenue.

A lengthy financial and project report was provided by Clark to the committee in which he outlined the need for a new roof at the water plant at a cost of $350,000; new windows at a cost of $125,000; a water line replacement in the Cain/Curry Street area currently being engineered, with an estimate of $950,000; water line replacement along Avondale Street at a cost of $1 million; and repair of the pipe bridge.

Although it was reported previously that repairs to the pipe bridge would likely be included in a project to replace lighting along U.S. Route 30, Allen said the Ohio Department of Transportation has recently indicated the grant funding will not cover that cost.

“I think we’ll be successful in convincing ODOT it should maintain the pipe bridge,” Allen told the committee.

Clark also reported an air compressor used by the maintenance crew went bad and a new one will cost $25,000, with one being rented currently.

He said a meter program being looked at could cost millions of dollars.

Total collections in water for 2017 were $2.6 million with about $2.4 million spent from line items and $764,014 spent from the R&I fund, for a total of more than $3.1 million spent in water during the year, according to Clark.

In the sewage department, Clark said, total collections for 2017 were $1.6 million, with nearly $1.3 million spent from line items and no money placed into the R&I fund, which has a zero balance.

Clark also offered the committee a litany of projects that need considered in the sewage department which include replacing primary sludge pumps at $20,000; bar screens at $325,000 plus engineering costs; dimmunator at about $52,000; replacement of the ultraviolet system at $200,000; cleaning digesters at $180,000 each; three raw sewage pumps at $150,000; a tandem dump truck, $120,000; backhoe, $90,000; generator, $20,000; lift stations; new doors on buildings; new blowers; and new auto valves for clarifiers.

Kerr reported on the refuse/recycling end that Allen has applied for a grant for a full-stream recycling program, and Allen said he will have a full presentation on the plan at a future meeting.

Resident Terry Sprague addressed the committee about the curb side collection project recently implemented, saying the original ordinance governing its use needs re-written so it can be used to “clean up the city in general.”

Kerr disagreed, saying the claw truck purchased for the program is doing its job, but Sprague pointed to a “mattress farm” on Sugar Street that she said started growing in July and cannot be picked up, she has been advised, because it is on private property.

Allen said that is correct, saying she wants him to pick up something on private property which could result in him getting sued.

“If volunteers want to move them to the curb, we’ll pick them up,” Allen said.

Kerr told her he is currently looking at ordinances and told Sprague, “Give me time. If you’re ever out that way and want to drag a mattress out, feel free.”

He indicated also, that he would deal with the mattress issue.