Water, sewer rates must rise, council told

STEUBENVILLE — The need for water and sewer rates to rise became clear to City Council after a presentation by city Accountant David Babela and Water and Wastewater Superintendent Chuck Murphy.

Babela recommended against moving $5 out of the monthly sanitation fund payments from customers to give to the water fund because he said the sanitation fund already isn’t meeting expenses and the transfer, along with continuing to pay for dilapidated building demolitions from the sanitation account, would deplete the fund by 2022.

Murphy reported the separation of sanitary and stormwater flows and the correction of groundwater seeping into the sewer system will be costly projects. He said the final tally for correcting a major combined sewer overflow at the foot of University Boulevard will total nearly $1 million by itself.

The city has 15 combined sewer overflow points.

Babela said even adding the $5 a month per customer to the sewer fund, which would generate about $421,000 a year, wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost of projects facing the city, which is under a longstanding EPA decree to fix its sewer system.

There also is a major valve replacement project facing the city as a result of the failure of the downtown water system in January, as well as other EPA mandated water maintenance projects.

Bob Baird, city sanitation and street superintendent, said pulling money out of the sanitation fund would be a self-inflicted problem and would keep the city from setting up a planned equipment replacement plan, where it eventually would buy just one packer truck each year to rotate the oldest truck out of the fleet.

Murphy said he needs to hire three workers for the sewer department and three for the water department to keep up with what the EPA is requiring.

He said a very rough figure, just to cover an EPA loan, not including any further maintenance projects for the water system nor any of the costly sewer system repairs, was for a rate increase of more than $6.

Fourth Ward Councilman Scott Dressel said council still needs to know how much money is needed over what period of time and what grants might be available “and how to structure it over time without devastating the people living here but keeping our water and sewer systems from falling apart.”

Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn asked for a report from the city’s consultants, HDR Engineering, on potential grants for sewer projects.

City Manager Jim Mavromatis told council the EPA is willing to accept rate increases recommended in a report done on the city water system in 2014, potentially saving the city $100,000 for a separate rate study.

Second Ward Councilman Craig Petrella recommended council begin considering dates for townhall meetings to brief residents on rate increases, once council gets the amounts necessary clearly defined.

Council will meet again on the utility issues in a committee as a whole session on June 26. The session will start at 6 p.m. and will include a briefing on street paving from City Engineer Michael Dolak.

In other business:

¯ Mavromatis reported he gave the JB Green Team until Sept. 1 to move out of its offices in the Municipal Building. He said the city is planning to move the fire department administration and inspection staff into the solid waste district’s current space, which Fire Chief Carlo Capaldi has said originally was designed for the fire department. The police detective division will move into the current fire offices.

¯ Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna said a homeowner whose lot was damaged by the city in December is planning to make repairs.

Mavromatis said the property owner needs to be sure to get the bills to the city.

¯ Evan Scurti, executive director of the Jefferson County Port Authority, updated council on a grant to remove storage tanks from the former Chevrolet dealership at the south end of South Third Street, and on marketing efforts for a 7.8-acre parcel along state Route 7 near the south end of South Third Street adjacent to the Pilot station and the River Rail terminal.

(Giannamore can be contacted at pgiannamore@heraldstaronline.com.)