Increases in city utility rates should be explained in full
Even though the proposed increases in the sewer and water rates and the garbage collection fees in the city of Youngstown aren't earth-shattering in terms of what users would actually pay, the administration of Mayor George M. McKelvey still has an obligation to provide the public with a detailed cost analysis.
For instance, what is Carmen Conglose, deputy director of public works, referring to when he says that the 25 percent to 30 percent increase in sewer charges is needed to cover, among other things, increased employee pay and benefit costs? Who are the employees, how much are they earning and how much of a pay raise are they getting? What does the benefit package contain and what is the reason for the higher cost?
While it may seem that we're nit-picking, the administration and city council must know that the people who pay the taxes and other fees that keep government in business are demanding more information about where their dollars are going. It's the result of the current economic downturn nationally, which has had a major impact on cities such as Youngstown.
With hundreds of private sector jobs lost, many residents are being forced to keep a tight rein on their budgets -- and they expect government to do the same. No one is suggesting that Youngstown's financial problems aren't real. Between buyouts and layoffs, almost 100 workers are off the payroll.
Against such a backdrop, the proposal to increase sewer and water rates and to charge more for garbage collection does warrant public discussion. Last week, Conglose and city Finance Director David Bozanich went before city council's utilities committee to make their pitch. On Aug. 14, the utilities and finance committees will consider a draft ordinance that would impose a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in sewer charges over the next five years. The average household sewer bill is $34.18 a month. If the committees endorse the measure, it would be sent to the full council on Aug. 21.
In addition, council will be asked to approve an increase in the garbage collection fee from $6.50 to $8 a month per household.
Finally, the city is likely to increase the water rates -- which the mayor and water commissioner can do without council's approval -- because of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District's increasing the bulk rate it charges Youngstown for drinking water.
In making the case for the rate increases, Conglose noted that the number of customers -- city residents pay combined water, sewer and garbage collection bills -- and the amount of water consumption are declining at a rate of about 1 percent a year. That prompts the question: What are the long-term implications of this decline?
Bozanich told lawmakers that the current garbage fee doesn't cover collection costs. Why?
We agree with the administration and council that water, sewer and garbage collection services should be financially self-sufficient, but when rates are being increased, users have a right to have all their questions answered.