City Council to consider increase in water rates

STEUBENVILLE – City Council members will consider a water rate increase that will see water customers pay a minimum $6.50 increase every month.

Legislation proposed Tuesday night by 6th Ward Councilman David Lalich will see $3.90 of the rate increase be directed to a water improvement fund with the remaining $2.60 used for water department operations.

City water customers are charged for a minimum of 2,000 gallons of water a month. Customers will be charged an additional $1.30 for every additional thousand gallons of water under the plan.

The rate increase was initially proposed Tuesday night by John Rauch, state director of the Rural Community Assistance Program, who commended council members “for being proactive.”

The council members spent more than 90 minutes debating the need for a rate increase before Tuesday’s sunshine meeting.

The ordinance will receive three separate readings and a final decision is expected in December.

“Approximately 60 percent of our customers use the minimum 2,000 gallons of water a month. which will mean they will see a $6.50 increase in their water bill,” said Mayor and Acting City Manager Domenick Mucci.

Mucci said the city finance office is projecting a $412,000 deficit in the water fund in 2014.

“We need to have some type of action to fix the water fund. If we don’t balance the water fund we will have a finding by the state auditors and will probably be placed on a watch by the state,” warned Finance Director Alyssa Kerker.

Under that scenario, according to Rauch, “the state will come in and help the council to decide what type of legislation is needed to balance the water fund. If you can’t pay your loan back to the Ohio Water Development Authority, they will sue the city. They will seek a court order to make you raise your rates. That could impact your ability to borrow money for future projects.”

“We don’t want to raise the water rate every year. This is our water system and our community and we have to fix this now. If we don’t take action now we will see a $20 monthly increase down the road,” declared Councilman at large Kenny Davis.

“We have to look at this seriously. When we lost the steel mill as a serious customer that was a warning sign. Borrowing money to balance the water fund is another warning sign,” said 4th Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs.

“I’m not against this proposal. But I want us to continue finding and fixing the water leaks. We heard we are losing 9 million gallons of water a year and that is too much. I want to know where that water is going,” commented 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul.

Second Ward Councilman Rick Perkins agreed with Paul’s argument.

“We haven’t pumped water to Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel since 2009, but we are still producing the same amount of water. We have to figure out where the money is going,” remarked Perkins.

Rausch said he was not proposing a sewage rate increase this year.

“But you will need a rate increase for that fund down the road,” added Rauch.

In other business, the council heard City Engineer Michael Dolak explain a proposed multi-community GPS data collection and a graphical information system to map the city’s water lines and sewer lines.

The resolution will allow the acting city manager to apply for a $70,000 grant through the Appalachian Regional Commission to help fund the equipment and program.

Dolak said the remainder of the $140,000 project will be paid for by the city’s water, wastewater and street department.

Lalich also introduced legislation to advertise for professional engineering services for water and wastewater projects.

And, Lalich proposed an ordinance to amend the city’s administrative code for more oversight by the council on a city manager’s vacation and compensation time.