STEUBENVILLE - The city water distribution system is losing more than half of the water produced every year City Council members learned Tuesday night.
Assistant Water Department Superintendent Michael Wigal said the city annually loses 900 million gallons of the 1.5 billion gallons of water produced every year through undetected leaks.
Wigal detailed the water loss issue during a City Council utility committee meeting scheduled to discuss the replacement of business water meters that were malfunctioning.
"We have replaced the large water meters that were not reading properly. We now need to calibrate the meters at the water treatment plant. They have not been calibrated for the past five years and should actually be calibrated every year," said Wigal.
"One of our problems is the vacant houses in the city where people are taking the copper water lines. We could see 10 gallons a minute running out of a pipe and going down the drain. That could easily be 5 million gallons a year just at the vacant structures," added Wigal.
"We have hundreds of vacant houses that need to be checked for water running down the drain to get a handle on the amount of water being produced and the water that is billed to customers. If anyone is aware of water running in a vacant house we are urging them to call the water department at (740) 283-6041 and report the address," Mayor and Acting City Manager Domenick Mucci said.
"Our water fund has financial issues moving forward. We need to address the finances but we also need to get our house in order," said Mucci.
In other business, council members voted 5-2 to decline a $150,000 grant from the Governor's Office of Appalachia and the Ohio Development Services Agency for improvements to aging water lines and the replacement of fire hydrants in three city neighborhoods and commercial areas.
The grant was announced in October during a press conference at City Hall.
Mucci said he and the council were made aware of the grant earlier this year by Buena Vista neighborhood residents.
"I have talked to officials at the Ohio Development Services Agency who are willing to allow us to restructure the grant application, but we will need to provide $150,000 in matching funds. I told those officials I would not make a move until I have a clear decision by City Council. Normally the council is aware of a grant application but in this case that didn't happen," explained Mucci.
"It is a dollar-for-dollar match. We do not have the financial flexibility in our water fund and if we want to proceed we will have to obtain a loan. The one project that is somewhat affordable is the Buena Vista area. If you want to go that route the state will accept a revised application," continued Mucci.
"I would like to know who determined the areas that need a water line upgrade. What about Chestnut Street, Whitehaven Boulevard and parts of Braybarton Boulevard where lines are repaired on a weekly basis? That's where we should have looked to replace water lines. I don't know who came up with this water line replacement list that is all in the West End," 2nd Ward Councilman Rick Perkins said.
"The water fund is projected to be $55,000 in the red by the start of 2014. I am not in favor of this," Perkins added.
Sixth Ward Councilman David Lalich said he was not in favor of spending $150,000 until we get the water fund under control.
Councilman at large Kenny Davis and 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul voted in favor of accepting the grant and proceeding with the Buena Vista water line replacement project.
"I will notify the state, thanks but no thanks for this grant. We can look at grant applications again in the future," said Mucci.
Third Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf asked Wigal to prepare a list of water line problem areas.
During a brief building and grounds committee meeting, Maintenance and Repair Department Superintendent Bob Baird reported the roof on the original city building has been repaired at a cost of $18,000, "and I believe we have stopped all of the water leaks."
"Water was actually penetrating the very old and very porous brick and then running along the two main support beams. As of today we have no water leaks and we are still under warranty," said Baird.
During the regular meeting, council approved a new 19-month contract with the union members of the city police department that will mean a 2.2 percent pay raise in September and a revised benefits package for new hires.
Mucci said the contract is retroactive to June 1, but the pay raise will not go into effect until Sept. 1.
"I want to thank and commend the police negotiating team for their hard and diligent work on the contract. The police understand the fiscal issues facing the city and the city understands their point of view. We were able to reach agreement on several cost-saving measures that will allow the city to save money in the future. That allowed us to make a pay raise adjustment," Mucci stated.
"We agreed to change the four-hour call out language to three hours, eliminate the increase in pay for a captain filling the police chief's job on a temporary basis, cap vacation time for new hires at five weeks and eliminate the holiday pay in July and December for new hires. That will save the city $48,640.34," explained Mucci.
He noted a police dispatcher will be hired to fill a vacancy, "that will allow a police patrolman to be back on patrol."
"The police understand the future outlook for the city. Once the contractual changes are implemented, we will show a cost savings for the city," said Mucci.
In other business Tuesday night, council heard the second reading for an ordinance authorizing and directing Mucci to advertise for bids for a belt filter press for the Wastewater Department.
Council also heard the first reading for an ordinance authorizing the selling of personal property owned by the city of Steubenville and no longer needed for municipal purposes. The auction is scheduled Oct. 12.
And council approved a resolution accepting the amounts and rates determined by the Jefferson County Budget Commission and authorizing the necessary tax levies and certifying them to the county auditor.
Metcalf announced the finance committee will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday with Municipal Court Judge Dan Spahn to discuss a personnel issue.
Baird said he is preparing a patch and repair schedule for Lovers Lane.
And City Engineer Michael Dolak announced Johnson Controls of Youngstown has been selected for an automated water meter replacement program.
Fourth Ward Councilman Angela Suggs reminded residents the Steubenville City Schools Back to School rally is set for 6 p.m. today at Harding Stadium.
"Steubenville City Schools will offer free lunches for every student this year. Eastern Gateway Community College and Franciscan University of Steubenville have discounted or free tuition. It is now up to our students and parents to make sure education is a priority in their lives," said Suggs.