By Jordan Cohen
City utility customers will see increases of 12 percent in their water bills in February and 15 percent to their sewer bills in March as repairs and expenses have caught up with the city’s water and sewer departments.
The water department faces a $2 million deficit, while repairs mandated by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to the wastewater plant are projected to cost the city $30 million.
“When the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District raised its water rates in 2011, we ate the increase and didn’t pass it on, but now we don’t have a choice,” said Mayor Ralph Infante. The mayor said the increase amounts to approximately $1.87 monthly to homeowners based on average usage.
Auditor Charles Nader said that without the increase, the red ink can only worsen.
“That $2 million deficit is the result not only of the MVSD rate hikes, but other costs such as hospitalization, repairs and improvements that have really gone up over the last three years,” Nader said. He projected a $500,000 reduction in the deficit for the first year.
The water-rate increase does not require council approval, but council action is necessary for the sanitary sewer system rate increase. Legislation, moved to a second reading this week, sets rate increases of 15 percent each year for the next four years. For the first year, average homeowner bills will go up by $2.87 monthly.
Councilman Ed McCormick, D-4th Ward, chairman of the utilities committee, said Niles has to upgrade its aging waste treatment plant to cover the costs of meeting EPA mandates.
“We have to make these modifications to be in compliance so that we’re not subjected to fines from the EPA,” McCormick said, but he warned the increases may not be enough to cover the estimated $30 million cost of repairs.
“It may be necessary to have additional raises so that we can finance this,” the councilman said.