One resident proposed eliminating the annual per-capita tax to take the bite out of the sewer increase.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
HERMITAGE, Pa. -- If city commissioners feel bad about how a 44-percent sewer rate increase will affect senior citizens, Steve Lysohir of Lillian Drive suggested a way to offset that feeling.
Lysohir, a former city commissioner himself, suggested the city eliminate its $20 annual per-capita tax as a way of giving city residents a break in light of the sewer fee increase.
That's something that can be considered, said Bill Scanlon, president of the board of commissioners.
Lysohir's suggestion came after the commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to raise the sewer rates to cover rising operating costs and $13 million in improvement projects. Commissioner Sylvia Stull said she felt bad about the impact on senior citizens.
Residential users pay a flat $66 per quarter now. That will go to $84 on Jan. 1, $90 on Jan. 1, 2004, and $95 on Jan. 1, 2005.
City Manager Gary Hinkson said the city has some money on hand but will have to borrow about $10 million through a 20-year bond issue to pay for system improvements demanded by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
On the list
The list includes improvements at the sewage treatment plant, renovation of the Bobby Run, Golden Run and Pine Hollow collector lines and a new line in the South Darby Road area.
Dennis Auchter of Whippoorwill Drive said he understands the increase is necessary but asked if rates will be reduced after the debt is paid off.
That's not likely, Hinkson said, explaining that the city has a number of other sewer projects it will have to do. There's no guarantee further increases won't be needed in the future, he added.
Jake Brest of Rettig Drive, said he would rather see the city go after delinquent sewer accounts than raise rates. He said the city shows a delinquency of just over $101,000.
Hinkson said the city has aggressively pursued delinquent accounts and has shut off water to some properties and filed liens against others. Those liens have to be paid off when a home is sold or the owner dies.
Hinkson said the $101,000 figure is misleading because it includes some commercial accounts which aren't actually overdue.
The city's computer system lists any bill over $132 (the residential rate for two quarters of the year) as delinquent and about $12,000 of the reported delinquency are commercial accounts that aren't late but are over $132, he said.
An additional $17,000 of the total are double entries, and about $6,700 is owed by elderly residents who can't keep current on their bills. An additioinal $33,000 is "pretty much uncollectible" because it is owed by people with their own wells who can't be forced to pay their sewer bills to avoid having their water shut off, he said.
There's only about $30,000 on the books that the city can expect to collect, he said.
Even if all $100,000 was collected, a rate increase would still be necessary, said Commissioner Larry Gurrera.
The rate increase is expected to generate about $500,000 in new revenue in the first year and about $125,000 more in both the second and third years. Annual revenue is about $2 million.