YOUNGSTOWN Utility rates set to go up

The proposed sewer rate increases are in addition to increases adopted earlier this year.
YOUNGSTOWN -- People served by the city's water, sewer and garbage collection systems can expect to pay more for these services before the end of the year.
A draft ordinance proposing a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in sewer charges over the next five years will be before city council's utilities and finance committees Aug. 14.
If the committees favor it, the ordinance is expected to go before the full council Aug. 21, and the increases could take effect this fall, said Carmen Conglose, deputy director of public works.
If the increase is 30 percent, bills would increase by about $2 per month per year for the average household, for a total of $10 a month increase over five years. The average household sewer bill is $34.18 a month, Conglose said.
The increases would be in addition to those enacted earlier this year, which total 15 percent between now and 2006, as the result of a settlement of a lawsuit filed against the city by the U.S. EPA.
Conglose told the utilities committee Wednesday that the increase is needed to cover increased employee pay and benefit costs and debt incurred for plant improvements at a time when the number of customers and water consumption (upon which sewer bills are based) are both declining at the rate of about 1 percent a year.
"I don't think anybody wants to see any increases. None of us are happy to see that. But we have to have a system that is self-sufficient. We have to have a system that is self-sustaining,'' said Councilman Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, adding that he favors the minimum rate increase necessary to keep the system self-sufficient and out of deficit.
The committee also endorsed a request by Finance Director Dave Bozanich to increase the city's monthly garbage collection fee from $6.50 to $8 a month per household because the current fee isn't sufficient to cover collection costs. Bozanich said the proposed increase would likely take effect around Oct. 1.
Bozanich said the city also is likely to increase water rates in response to increases proposed by the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, which supplies water to the city, and in response to the city's need to upgrade and extend its water distribution system.
The sewer and garbage fee increases require council action, but water rates can be increased by Mayor George McKelvey and Water Commissioner Charles Sammarone, Bozanich said. City residents pay combined water, sewer and garbage collection bills.
Sewer and water rate increases would affect residents outside the city, too. The sanitary sewer system serves about 150,000 people in the city and parts of Mahoning and Trumbull counties. The water system serves city residents and distributes water bought from the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District to Austintown, Boardman, Canfield Township, North Jackson and Liberty. The city sells water in bulk to Mineral Ridge, Girard and the city of Canfield.
Bozanich said he believes water, sewer and garbage collection services should be financially self-sufficient, and noted that, even after the proposed increases, city residents will still pay less for these services than their suburban counterparts.
"We need to protect the financial integrity of those systems and invest in those systems," Bozanich added.

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