Liberty officials want to negotiate water prices
By Samantha Phillips
Liberty officials are concerned about the varying water prices residents pay depending on where they live in the township.
Wednesday, Liberty trustees and township Administrator Pat Ungaro met with the Trumbull County commissioners and Gary Newbrough, deputy sanitary engineer, to discuss negotiating the township’s contract with Girard, which expires in 2020.
Newbrough said Girard built the water system into the township in 1958. The water contract between Liberty and Girard was last renewed in 2000.
Trustee Jodi Stoyak said she wants fair pricing for township residents. Ungaro agreed he wants to see everyone pay the same price.
Girard services sections of Liberty east of Belmont Avenue including Tibbetts Wick Road to Liberty Street and areas near Logan Way.
Liberty residents who get Youngstown water are paying a 40 percent surcharge, but those getting Girard water pay an 80 percent surcharge, Stoyak said. Girard pays a 40 percent charge from Niles.
Girard purchases its water from Niles, Youngstown and Trumbull County. Youngstown purchases water from the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District.
“Youngstown is a member of MVSD; we are not. We don’t buy water at a Youngstown price. We are as much at the mercy of the MVSD as Liberty is,” Girard Mayor James Melfi said.
“She’s all wet,” Melfi added. “She keeps comparing the water we sell to the township residents and Youngstown. Youngstown buys their water for much less than we buy our water.”
Stoyak shared documents with the commissioners about the water rate for Girard and Liberty residents since 2014.
The document shows in 2014, Girard residents were paying $8.06 per thousand gallons if they used less than 10,000 gallons per month and $7.27 per thousand gallons if they used more than 10,000 gallons per month. Liberty residents paid $10.17 per thousand gallons at the least and $11.28 per thousand gallons at the most.
In 2017, Girard residents paid at the most $12.39 per thousand gallons and $11.16 per thousand gallons at the least. Liberty residents getting Girard water paid $15.63 per thousand gallons at the least and $17.35 per thousand gallons at the most.
There is a discount provided for residents who use more than 10,000 gallons.
“I realize everyone wants to make money from water, but this is over the top,” Stoyak said.
Girard Service Director Jerry Lambert said the city increases its rates only when the MVSD increases its own rates. If the city’s rates didn’t change, Girard would lose money. He said the city also pays for maintaining the water system and fixing any line breaks.
“We can’t charge Liberty less than we pay for it. We aren’t in the business to lose money. We are almost losing money in some areas,” he said.
Stoyak sent a record request to Lambert in February requesting how many gallons of water is supplied to township residents and how much was collected from the surcharge, and Lambert replied that the city doesn’t keep those figures.
“That response tells me we are dealing with an antiquated system if you can’t press a button and see how much customers are spending,” she said.
Melfi said the city law director advised they don’t have to gather the information if the city didn’t have it before.
Stoyak has said the township could legally form its own water district and buy water directly from Niles, Youngstown or McDonald, but would prefer to keep working with local partners.
Commissioner Dan Polivka suggested the township officials meet with Girard officials and commissioners to discuss negotiating the water contract. Liberty officials were on board with the idea. Melfi, however, said the city doesn’t intend to budge on the contract.