By Jordan Cohen
The Mahoning Valley Sanitary District has informed its member cities that the water supplier plans to ask its Court of Jurisdiction to approve rate increases for July 2014 and 2015.
The MVSD sells water to Niles, Youngstown and McDonald.
Thomas Holloway, MVSD chief engineer, said the district, which also refers to itself as Meander Water, will not ask for a rate increase to take effect this July when it presents its three-year rate structure to the court. However, it will ask for an increase of 1.25 percent beginning in July 2014 and 8.2 percent in July 2015.
In Youngstown, Mayor Charles Sammarone said that he does not believe the city will have to raise water rates should the increases be approved.
“I think we’ve made enough changes and improvements to our water department that rate hikes shouldn’t be necessary, but that will be up to whoever is mayor at that time,” said Sammarone, who is running for council president and not seeking re-election as mayor.
He also believes the increases are justified. “We’ve got two representatives on their board, and they’ve told us how necessary these improvements are,” Sammarone said.
The MVSD’s current rate of $1.92 per 1,000 gallons of water to the three municipalities would remain unchanged until the second year of the package if the court approves.
“This increase will help us cover the costs of improvements to our distribution system valves and the dam and spillway,” Holloway said. The engineer estimated the total cost of the two projects at $9.9 million.
Niles Mayor Ralph Infante said he is gratified that the rate will be frozen the first year. The mayor said Niles is generating additional revenue through its citywide installation of more sophisticated, remote-controlled meters that more accurately calculate water usage. He said the extra year will give the city time to complete the changeover and generate additional income.
“This is more to my liking,” Infante said.
However Niles Council President Robert Marino was not as pleased. “I think we need stability for our rate payers, and I would rather see a longer-range plan,” Marino said. “There is no consistency.” Holloway said he would not rule out Marino’s suggestion.
The MVSD traditionally has submitted three-year plans to the court, which consists of one judge each from Mahoning and Trumbull counties. In its last review, the court approved rate increases of nearly 10 percent in 2011 and 11.8 percent for the fiscal year beginning July 2012.
Infante said he has not increased water rates in Niles in five years. “I’m hoping to keep it that way,” the mayor said.
McDonald Mayor Glenn Holmes said he supports the rate increase. “The MVSD really has to make those improvements, so we do not object to the increases they’re going to propose.”
He added that the MVSD rate increases won’t necessarily mean higher rates for McDonald water customers: “I don’t believe it will be necessary to increase our rates, especially since we already adjusted them to make improvements to our water tower. If we find ourselves in a situation where that changes, any increase we make will be nominal, but I don’t see that happening right now.”
Holloway said no date has been set for the Court of Jurisdiction hearing on the rate-increase request.