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Salem water rates could see increase

SALEM — The city utilities commission will be talking about increasing water rates sometime next year and plans to have a study done of the sewer rates, too.

“We’re going to have to revisit our entire rate structure,” commission chairman Bob Hodgson said, based on the findings in a state-mandated water asset management plan presented last week.

According to the plan, the city needs to increase the minimum bill for water by $3 each year through 2024. The minimum bill on the water side is $10.30 for 200 cubic feet of water.

“Currently, the minimum is too low to recoup fixed costs. Additionally, the usage rate should be increased by 5 percent in each of those years,” the report said.

The rate is currently $1.90 for every 100 cubic feet of water over the minimum and will automatically go to $2 for every 100 cubic feet in 2020 over the minimum as part of the last rate increase approved in 2017.

The report said the rate increases suggested by the Rural Community Assistance Program would equal about $3.30 per month or $39.60 per year for the average water user. The average water bill now is about $17.90 per month and the average usage about 4,500 gallons. This does not include the sewer portion of the utility bill.

The board took no action on the recommendation at this time, but Hodgson said it will be having discussions in 2020. With increasing costs, mandates by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and aging infrastructure and equipment, he said they’ll have to do something.

The plan prepared by RCAP looked at all phases of water operations, including management practices such as annual main line flushing, annual hydrant inspections, valve exercising and leak detection, technical specs dealing with the asset numbers, such as the number of hydrants, valves, miles of lines, storage tanks, water loss and water flow, plans for asset rehabilitation and replacement for preventative maintenance and a capital project plan for replacing infrastructure and improving the water plant.

The plan identified $219,000 in annual preventative maintenance costs on the water side between the distribution, treatment and administrative divisions, an additional $460,165 annually for predictive maintenance in order to extend the life of major assets and replace short-lived assets for water operations, and $8.89 million worth of capital projects over 10 years dealing strictly with the water.

The plan had to do with water assets, not wastewater or sewer operations, but Hodgson acknowledged that the commission will have to look at both. The commission decides on the water rates, while city council decides sewer rates. Hodgson said RCAP has been asked to come up with a price to do a sewer rate study. Since the decision on sewer rates rests with city council, he said the commission will review the study findings and then make a recommendation to council, which may not happen for another year.

The next meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Dec. 19.

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