By Elise Franco
AUSTINTOWN — Township trustees want justification for a Youngstown water-rate increase that raised Austintown residents’ rates about $2.72 per month.
Trustee Lisa Oles said the township was told by city officials that the increase, which went into effect Feb. 1, was to raise money to replace water infrastructure.
She said that township residents pay a 40 percent surcharge for their water supply.
“It was always our understanding that surcharge was being paid to maintain and replace, as needed, the water infrastructure,” Oles said. “If the city is proposing this increase based on the reasoning that they want to replace the waterlines, we want to know what they’ve been doing with our surcharges all these years.”
Youngstown officials announced Dec. 31 that its residential and commercial customers would see an 8.75 percent increase in water rates over the next five years to cover the cost of the city’s capital-improvement plan, which includes various waterline-replacement projects, a water-tank replacement, new meters, major valve replacements and more totaling more than $33 million.
Youngstown supplies water to large parts of Austintown, Boardman and Canfield townships.
Austintown Township Administrator Mike Dockry said he drafted a letter requesting from Youngstown:
UInformation that provides reasons or justification for the water-rate hike.
UInformation about any strategic plan to replace, repair or maintain water infrastructure.
UAn explanation of expenditures for the past three years of surcharge revenue from noncity customers.
UDetails on all grants applied for in the past three years for replacement, repair or maintenance of water-system infrastructure.
Dockry said the letter will be postmarked and also faxed to the city today. The letter also is going to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Oles said township officials want to know why raising water rates seems to be the city’s only option.
“We want to know if the city has exhausted all of their opportunities to apply for any grants available before they come to the consumers and expect us to pay,” she said.
Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams said he didn’t want to respond to the letter Tuesday.
“I haven’t seen the letter,” he said. “If and when we receive the letter we will respond appropriately.”
Williams said the city will do its best to answer any and all questions Austintown officials have.
Canfield Trustee Marie Cartwright and Boardman Administrator Jason Loree said their respective townships weren’t involved in writing the letter, but they are aware of the increase.
Loree said he hasn’t had any complaints from residents, but he wouldn’t be surprised if the calls come is as water bills begin to.
Oles said the point of Austintown’s request to Youngstown is to make sure the city is using money for its intended purpose.
“We want to make sure this is not another attempt to raise funds for the city, if the purpose is not going toward changing the water infrastructure like they’re saying,” she said. “The people in the suburbs shouldn’t have to contribute to the city’s general fund. We want to make sure we benefit from what we’re paying for.”
Loree said he understands infrastructure maintenance and replacement are important, but they actually need to happen.
“I hope their plans have been well thought out and [extra] costs don’t end up on the backs of those outside the municipality,” he said.
Oles said she hopes the ABC Water District, which is designed to provide Austintown, Boardman and Canfield with a way to address storm water or flooding concerns, could become a possible alternative for township residents who don’t want to pay Youngstown’s high rates.
“If the increase in their water rates are going to be extremely high and unaffordable, maybe it’s time the water district takes a look at starting to provide the services Youngstown currently provides to our residents,” she said.
The districts’ representatives are scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Boardman Government Center. Oles said she would like to see this issue brought up at that meeting.
“I hope whether our district can start providing the residents with the same services Youngstown is providing is something they consider and discuss seriously,” she said. “We have a lot of people on fixed incomes in Austintown, so we’re trying to keep the cost down.”