Bulk water rates focus for council

STEUBENVILLE – City Council appeared ready to stand by a proposed bulk water rate hike for Jefferson County after City Manager Tim Boland said Tuesday the city will lose money if it continues to sell water at the current $1.78 rate.

The bulk water rate was one of several issues discussed during two hours of committee meetings held prior to the council sunshine meeting.

“The cost of producing treated water is $2.46 for 1,000 gallons and that is the rate we have told the county commissioners we plan to charge the county. We have an agreement in place to supply water to the county and the agreement language dictates when we can increase the price. Because the cost of producing water has gone up we have implemented that language. We have raised the bulk water rate from $1.78 for 1,000 gallons to $2.46 for each 1,000 gallons,” stated Boland during a public utilities committee meeting.

“One of our goals this year is to increase our customer base. We do not have a bulk water rate policy and we need to develop one. We need to develop a reasonable water rate for bulk customers,”added Boland.

“I want to work with the county, but we can’t give water away and we are losing money at the lower rate. If selling water to the county at $1.78 puts us further in the hole, we can’t do that. We need to charge the county the $2.46 rate and if they are charging their customers $10.13 for 1,000 gallons that is a tremendous profit for the county,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Mike Johnson.

According to Law Director S. Gary Repella, “we can charge the $2.46 for 1,000 gallons because that is what it costs us to produce the water. We all agree we want to work with the county, but we have to charge what it costs us.”

That discussion spurred 1st Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto to question the city’s delinquent water customers and spark a debate over the performance audit to be conducted by the state auditor’s office.

“Do we have a policy in place to get the delinquent water customers to pay their bills?” asked DiLoreto.

“I met with the state auditor’s representatives last week and they gave me a list of what they will need for their work,” said Finance Director Alyssa Kerker.

“I think the problem is the delinquent water review board. Who checks the board’s decisions? Maybe we should modify the board. Maybe make it a seven-member board,” Johnson said.

“We need to put the issue of delinquent accounts in the hands of the performance audit,” noted Boland.

“Our main weakness is not enough people on the ground shutting off the delinquent accounts,” said Repella.

Council members heard a plea from JB Green Team Executive Director Cliff Meyer, who said the solid waste authority has lost 54 percent of its funding and is considering the implementation of a designation fee for Jefferson and Belmont counties.

In other matters, Boland sounded a faint warning regarding the city’s finances during a council finance committee meeting Tuesday.

“Looking at the income tax receipts for the first three months of 2014 versus 2013, I noted the income taxes are not as robust as 2013. We will continue to monitor the income tax receipts and to change the inbalance. If we don’t take steps in 2014, I can perceive community challenges in our spending for 2015. We want to take steps to correct the inbalances,” said Boland.

“We have looked at the significant amount of overtime given the severe weather we have experienced. This is not a typical year. But we will have to make modifications to address that. I don’t want to read too much at the two-month mark. Once we have the full first quarter numbers and we look at the trends we can prepare for any modifications we may need to make,” Boland stated.

Third Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf called for a finance committee meeting on April 15 to review the first quarter financial numbers.

In other business, council members agreed to consider an ordinance authorizing the use of $50,000 from the safety fund for the demolition of houses outside of the Community Development Block Grant funded neighborhoods.

The legislation had been tabled earlier this month.

“If we do allow this money from the safety fund, I want a guarantee we will do something with the police department. It is terrible in some of those offices. I am OK with using the $50,000 for demolitions as long as I have a guarantee we will make improvements in the police department and the money will be paid back to the safety fund,” stated 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna.

During the sunshine meeting, DiLoreto proposed a resolution accepting the water system improvement plan and authorizing the city manager to implement and update the plan as needed.

Johnson introduced a resolution declaring April as Fair Housing Month in the city. And Metcalf introduced legislation to authorize the city manager to advertise for professional engineering services for the Lovers Lane Phase 3 project that will see Lovers Lane from Teresa Drive to Sunset Boulevard widened.

Metcalf also proposed an ordinance to allow the city manager to sign a contract with Fort Steuben Maintenance for $70,822 for the repair of 42 street openings created during water line break repair jobs. And he also proposed an ordinance to pay bills without a purchase order.

Council members were complimented during the public forum by city resident Joe Scalise who said he was happy to see the direction council is taking.

“I am pleased to see the committee meetings and the discussion of the issues in the city,” noted Scalise.

Council met in executive session following the sunshine meeting to discuss personnel.