Water issues focus for council

STEUBENVILLE – City Manager Tim Boland signaled Tuesday night the city will be taking a tougher stance on water customers and announced 46 commercial customers that use the large water meters may see their water service interrupted if they don’t purchase and install new, updated meters.

“We have three groups of the large meter customers. The city sent a letter to the 117 large meter customers telling them they need to survey their plumbing and make plans to install a new large meter. Sixty-seven of those customers responded and have determined what they need to do. We have four customers who have ordered a new large meter but have done nothing since. And the final 46 customers have never responded to our letter. They must respond by June 20 or they run the risk of water service interruption,” stated Boland.

Boland made his comments Tuesday during a City Council Utility Committee meeting.

The city manager also announced he is reviewing a past city policy of allowing pool owners to fill their swimming pools and have the sewage rate waived on a one-time-a-year basis.

“I have received two requests from pool owners to have the sewage bill waived for the water they put into their pools. We need to develop a long-term policy for this practice. But I must note the state auditor’s office has expressed some concerns with the practice. There also is an environmental issue because eventually the pool water, which is chlorinated water, is put into our storm sewer system or our sanitary sewer system. We need to think this issue through a little,” Boland told the council members.

“I do want to hear more clarification from the state auditor’s office before I make a decision,” Boland added.

The city has hired the state auditor’s office to conduct a performance audit of the water and wastewater funds.

According to Finance Director Stacy Williams, “essentially there is no written policy. In the past the decision to waive the sewage bill was made by the city manager.”

Fifth Ward Councilman Willie Paul suggested the city consider following a practice used in Mingo Junction where the village allows pool owners to place a water meter on a water hose to measure how much water is put into their pool.

“Those customers are then only charged for the water they use for their pools,” said Paul.

Mayor Domenick Mucci asked Boland to consider warning pool owners of a change in the unwritten policy for 2015.

“We had about 100 requests last year. The city’s past practice has been to forgive the sewage rate for pool water. If we change the policy I hope we give the pool owners fair warning for next year. People may have already anticipated sewage relief this year,” commented Mucci.

Council also met with the three members of the city’s Water Review Board prior to the sunshine meeting to discuss alleged comments made during a review board meeting.

The discussion included several minutes of debate that saw 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna say, “I am here because I am mad because I was called a liar and a loud mouth. I don’t appreciate that.”

Board member Paul Rue apologized, “if we offended two councilmen. We don’t need the tension. We need unity. We need to work together.”

“I accept your apology,” said Villamagna who then shook hands with the three water review board members.

Rue also explained the board works with delinquent water customers to have them pay their current and past due bills and keep water on in their residences.

“If this isn’t up to your standard, then take us off the board and get someone on the board who won’t care if people have water in their homes,” Rue declared.

“We don’t want to set people up for failure,” noted board member Paul Moore.

In other water discussions Councilman at large Kenny Davis said he is aware of several residences that do not have a water meter but continue to receive city water service.

“There are possibly numerous homes that are delinquent with no meter in place and they are still getting water. You can’t charge for water if there is no meter. Is that grounds for theft? Are we collecting their trash for free?” questioned Davis.

Second Ward Councilman Mike Johnson suggested members of council and administration consider an amnesty program, “that will allow delinquent customers to pay their bill within 60 days. If they don’t then we tell them we are taking them to court.”

And, 3rd Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf urged Boland to take action soon to repair and replace broken fire hydrants in the LaBelle neighborhood.

“Those hydrants are putting our residents and firefighters at risk. This is a high-risk area because the houses are so close together,” Metcalf said.

Council also heard a report from Jennifer Frommer of HDR Engineering of Columbus regarding meeting Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ordered mandates for the city’s wastewater system.

During the sunshine meeting Davis introduced introduced a ordinance authorizing the city manager to advertise for a request for proposals for a health insurance broker and legislation authorizing the issuance and sale of up to $748,000 in wastewater utility bonds for the purchase of a sludge press.

Metcalf proposed several pieces of legislation, including the lease of property at the Maryland Avenue water tower to AT&T for cellular service equipment.

He also proposed an updated revenue tax budget and appropriation and a change in vacation schedule for non-union salary employees.

And, 4th Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs introduced two ordinances for future wastewater plant projects.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com.)