YOUNGSTOWN Council to vote on rate rise to fund sewer-system fixes

The average household sewer bill of $32.87 a month would rise to $38.09 in 2006 and settle the suit.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A sewer rate increase totaling 15 percent by 2006 -- which will save the city from raising rates astronomically to settle a huge federal lawsuit -- goes before council tonight.
The proposed settlement, made to council late last month, would raise rates by 4 percent as of June 2002 and another 4 percent as of January 2003. Increases fall to 3 percent in 2004, then 2 percent in 2005 and 2 percent in 2006.
Money generated by the increases would pay for roughly $12 million in sewer system work the city negotiated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
That's far below the $300 million-plus tab the city faced, plus penalties, when the suit over sewer discharges started more than three years ago.
Mayor George McKelvey and city lawyers who conducted the negotiations have urged council members to approve the settlement.
Costs: The city would pay a $60,000 fine and make the $12 million in improvements over the next six years under the proposed settlement. Work would include eliminating sewer overflows near Mill Creek Park's Lilly Pond and replacing two pump stations.
The city must also develop a longer-range sewer improvement plan, estimated to cost $100 million over 20 years under the proposal.
The average household pays $32.87 a month for sewer service, which is included in the city water bill. That would rise to $38.09 in 2006 under the settlement.
That cost would have skyrocketed to $167.87 per month in 2006 if the city had complied with the EPA's first demands.
The government filed the suit in October 1998. Trial is set for May 20 if a settlement isn't approved by then. So far, the city has spent $694,009 in legal fees and $92,605 in expert fees.

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