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Youngstown council panel to study figures before raising sewer rates



Published: Tue, November 3, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Rick Rouan

Sewer rates are slated to go up by year’s end, the city’s finance director said.

YOUNGSTOWN — A consultant told a city council committee Monday that the city would have to raise sewer rates by 12.9 percent a year to help comply with federal standards.

The city’s finance director, however, said that Youngstown would try to keep an increase in the “single digits.”

The city needs to raise about $150 million over 20 years to comply with federal guidelines outlined in the Clean Water Act, which was passed in the 1970s.

Early in the program, federal grants paid for significant portions of the improvements, and local governments footed relatively small bills, said David Bozanich, the city’s finance director.

Now, though, local governments are paying for a majority of the federally mandated improvements.

“This is the classic unfunded mandate,” said Daniel Markowitz, a consultant with Akron-based Malcolm Pirnie.

Markowitz said that his firm looked at two scenarios for raising money. In one plan, rates would have to increase about 20 percent a year for three years and then 3 percent every year after to raise about $149 million.

The second plan calls for 12.9 percent increases in sewer rates for five years and then 3 percent every year after to raise about $137.5 million.

In the five-year plan, that would translate to a monthly rate increase of about $5 every year, Markowitz said.

Bozanich said that the city would review the numbers presented to the Public Utilities Committee and decide on an increase before the end of the year.

The increase, Bozanich said, likely will be in the “single digits.”

“I don’t see how the [Environmental Protection Agency] expects people to pay more when their income is going down” said Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st.

The EPA wants local governments to keep rates at about 2 percent of the median household income of its service area, Markowitz said.

For the service area, consultants estimated that number to be about $28,875, but that includes areas of Mahoning and Trumbull counties that are not in Youngstown but are still served by the wastewater district. In Youngstown, that number is about $21,850.

Customers in Youngstown make up more than 63 percent of the customer base, according to the consultant’s presentation.

“The people who have to pay those bills, they’re in service- sector jobs,” Gillam said.

Before World War II, most sewage and wastewater systems were built as one unit, transporting both together to rivers to be washed away.

Built into those systems are “overflows,” which release rain water mixed with untreated sewage into rivers and tributaries during periods of heavy rainfall. If those overflows did not exist, sewage would back up into homes, Markowitz said.

The proposed plan, which still needs EPA approval, would build basins to catch those overflows until the wastewater treatment facility has room to treat it, Markowitz said.

Under the 12.9 percent increase, the city would generate about $137.5 million toward those basins and other improvements, Markowitz said.

Markowitz said the EPA has been pushing for a more expansive and expensive plan and for the city to use a higher median income to calculate the increase.

Bozanich said that consultants were given the directive to devise numbers that are defensible as a “good-faith effort” toward the improvements but that would not break the bank.

“This is the Chevy Cobalt, not the Cadillac,” Markowitz said.

rrouan@vindy.com


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