Niles mayor changes amount of water-rate increase
By Jordan Cohen
Only one day after Mayor Thomas Scarnecchia announced a 5 percent water-rate increase plus a $5 monthly surcharge to help pay for the installation of new water meters, the mayor changed his plans.
Instead, the increase will be 15 percent, but the additional meter surcharge has been dropped.
Residents will see their rates go from the current $2.98 per 100 cubic feet of water to $3.43. The figure would have been $3.13 in the mayor’s plan announced Tuesday.
“We did this because we were concerned about the impact on our senior citizens,” the mayor said, explaining why he decided against implementing flat fees. “We don’t want to hurt them.”
James DePasquale, safety-service director, said most senior citizens use far less water and should not be impacted by the increase.
Andy Catanzarite, water superintendent, told council the city had failed for many years to pass along increases charged by Niles’ water supplier, the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District.
“Our rates [from MVSD] increased 318 percent in the last 18 years, but we only raised our rates 22 percent,” Catanzarite said. “We’re lucky we have a water system at all.”
The superintendent said infrastructure has been neglected for many years, and the city needs a professional firm to develop a repair plan for hydrants, water towers and lines that constantly break. He estimated a professionally developed study would cost $40,000 to $50,000, but funding it is another matter.
“We don’t have the money to hire a firm to tell us what to do, and we need that,” Catanzarite said. The water department remains in deficit, and the city has been in state-declared fiscal emergency for more than two years.
The other ongoing problem is the Wellness Center, which has run up deficits since it opened. Scarnecchia revealed Tuesday the center has lost nearly $1.1 million in its eight-year existence.
“If we could get it to break even, we’d be happy,” the mayor said in response to a resident’s question.
His administration is considering leasing the facility. Atty. Douglas Neuman, a former Niles law director, wrote to council a lease is possible “if the agreement is drafted to comply with the deed restrictions and state law.”
In the meantime, council voted to appropriate only $25,000 of the $39,000 the center needs to finish the year. Councilman Steve Papalas, D-at large, recommended waiting until December before deciding on allocating the rest.
“I’ll be coming back for it,” said city Auditor Giovanne Merlo.
Papalas also spearheaded a resolution to abolish the Wellness Center board “and put it under the auspices of city council.” The board has rarely met in the last year.
Council members say they want to review major contracts to try to stem the center’s red ink.