The first sewer rate increase would take effect Oct. 1 and be in addition to increases approved earlier this year.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- City council will consider a 33 percent sewer rate increase over the next 31/2 years when it meets next Wednesday.
The draft ordinance calls for a 9 percent increase Oct. 1, followed by another 9 percent increase Jan. 1, and 5 percent increases on Jan. 1 of 2004, 2005 and 2006.
The average household sewer bill is $34.18 a month.
The ordinance was placed before the full council by council's finance and public utilities committees, which conducted a joint meeting Wednesday.
The increases are needed primarily because of debt payments still being made for construction of the $90 million secondary sewage treatment plant in the 1980s and because of the cost of further repair and maintenance to the plant and collection system that will be required to comply with federal and state regulations over the next five years, said Carmen S. Conglose Jr., deputy director of public works.
Conglose, who recommended the rate increases to council, also noted that 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.
Although staffing costs are expected to increase by 5 to 6 percent annually over the next five years, they constitute only 22.7 percent of the total sewage treatment plant budget and are the smallest factor being considered in the rate increase proposal, he added.
The rate increases are being placed before council based on a January 2000 sewer service charge study conducted for the city by the Montgomery-Watson consulting firm of Cleveland.
"What we've tried to do is to stick at or below the recommendations in the Montgomery-Watson study," Conglose told the councilmen.
The Montgomery-Watson report recommended rate increases that would have begun in 2000, but city officials didn't propose rate increases then because of uncertainties about the outcome of a lawsuit filed against the city by the U.S. EPA, Conglose said.
The increases in the ordinance going before council Wednesday would be in addition to those enacted earlier this year, which total 15 percent between now and 2006, as the result of settlement of that lawsuit, which requires the city to make sewer system improvements to remedy water pollution problems.
"No money raised in a rate increase in the waste-water treatment plant goes to the general fund expenses. It is a dedicated fund that can only be used at the waste-water treatment plant," said Mayor George McKelvey.
The committees also jointly placed before the full council an ordinance authorizing an engineering study by MS Consultants of Youngstown to review problems in the city's water distribution system, such as areas of low water pressure, and their potential solutions, and to identify areas where service can be expanded. Part of the study will concern potential expansion of city water service in Liberty Township, said Charles Sammarone, water commissioner.
In 1988, the city pumped 32 million gallons of water a day, but it now only pumps 19 million gallons daily, Sammarone said, attributing the decline partly to the closing of major users, such as Youngstown Osteopathic Hospital and Tartan Textiles, and to the decline in number of homes in the city. As the amount pumped declines, water rates are driven up, he said.
"We need more customers. We have the water. We've got to find ways to sell it and to bring more customers on board," he added.