Youngstown mayor ‘adamant’ he won’t support a sewer-rate increase yet
Brown wants to look at other options first
By David Skolnick
Despite a city-paid study calling for 8-percent annual sewer-rate increases for the next five years starting Jan. 1, the mayor said he’s “adamant” he won’t support raising fees yet.
The money raised by the recommended increase would go to pay for projects already completed, under construction or the work about to be awarded.
“There needs to be a lot more to happen” before recommending a rate increase, said Mayor Jamael Tito Brown. “I don’t have plans to raise the rates. I’m adamant about that. I want us to look at all options first. I’m not convinced this community can afford it.”
Arcadis, an international firm hired by the city to do the study, recommended to a city council committee Oct. 23 that the increases start Jan. 1, 2019, and be done annually until 2023.
Several city officials, including Brown, said at that meeting that residents cannot afford the proposed increases. Some said they would consider approving a 2019 increase and then go year by year.
But Brown now says: “That is not my desire.”
The mayor said he wants to have “an affordability study” done to determine what – if any – amount residents can pay more in sewer fees, and to reopen discussions with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to see if it would lower the $160 million the city agreed in 2014 to pay to improve its sewer system over 20 years.
“We’re looking at all our options,” Brown said.
The recommended increases would generate about $76.5 million for wastewater-treatment-plant improvements mandated by the EPA. The city has either completed those projects, has them under construction or is about to award contracts for that work, Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works, said at the Oct. 23 meeting.
The Arcadis study’s recommendations called for the monthly sewer rate to go from $98.91 per 1,000 cubic feet now to $106.82 in 2019, $115.37 in 2020, $124.60 in 2021, $134.57 in 2022 and $145.33 in 2023. There are about 22,000 wastewater accounts in the city.
Arcadis officials said the typical residential customer in the city – a family of two to three – uses 700 cubic feet of wastewater a month. Those monthly rates would go from $78.57 now to $84.86 in 2019, $91.64 in 2020, $98.98 in 2021, $106,89 in 2022 and $115.45 in 2023.
The EPA originally ordered the city in 2002 to spend $310 million on improvements to its wastewater system. The city entered into negotiations with the EPA from 2003 to 2011 in an attempt to lower that figure.
In 2011, the city received notification from the agency that it wouldn’t seek $310 million in improvements because of the strain it would put on city residents.
It wasn’t until 2014 that the city and the EPA settled on about $160 million in work over 20 years. The projects are focused on upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, a new facility near the plant to better control sewage in heavier rainfalls and an interceptor to keep wastewater from flowing into Mill Creek.