Columbiana approves water rate increase to pay for treatment plant

COLUMBIANA – City water users will see higher bills now that council has approved raising rates by $11 a month to pay for the cost of the new water treatment plant.

Councilman Dick Simpson originally suggested an $11 increase a month now, with a $4 increase in six months and another $4 increase six months to a year after that, but council opted to go with the $11 increase now and revisit the matter later.

“We need to get money set back in order to pay for this water plant,” Simpson said.

The increase does not affect sewer rates.

Mayor Bryan Blakeman was not in favor of the suggestion, however, and asked council to consider a $5 increase instead.

City Manager Lance Willard said the $11 is working toward the $21 a month surcharge suggested by the Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP) that is still conducting a rate study to help the city determine how to adjust rates to pay back a 40-year loan through the United States Department of Agriculture.

“We have to have a water plant and for a $12 million water plant you are going to have to increase (rates),” he said, adding the USDA is in favor of phasing in rates as needed.

The plant and construction have been estimated at between $15 to $22 million.

Councilman Dick McBane said he went online and found areas like New Middletown, Poland and Struthers have a monthly service charge of $10.58 cents for a three-quarter-inch line and an additional $7.31 charge for 100,000 gallons used through Aqua Ohio.

“That is the nearest private group around us and they are already higher than what we are proposing,” he said.

Blakeman said the comparison wasn’t the same since Aqua is a for-profit company, and then said he didn’t want his name associated with the city’s rate increase.

McBane, Simpson and Bekar agreed an increase was necessary.

“I’m not going to sit up here and say ‘gee I don’t want that $11 assessed to me.’ No one is going to agree with that, but that is just about as bare bones as we can get right now,” Bekar said. “We are sitting here, we are hem-hawing around and it’s not going to get done and that is what happened with the council before and the council before that.”

Bob Struharik, who runs Master Plan Builders with his son Rob Struharik, said the city should charge users for domestic meters and sprinkler meters.

“You’d get a lot more people sprinkling their yards,” he said.

Simpson and Councilman Ted Souder agreed with that suggestion, although council did not act on it.

Bekar said the $11 increase now is “fair” for the community at this point, and Simpson said the city could readjust legislation in six months if needed.

“The more we build up now, the less it is going to cost in the end result,” Simpson said.

Willard said more detailed figures for the cost of the plant should be presented in six months.

Resident Gay Wagner, who has approached council at the last few meetings complaining about high utility rates, said the city should “shop around” for prices when it comes to the new plant.

“I think you should be ashamed that our residents have to go out of town to get assistance for their utility rates,” she said.

Wagner first approached council to discuss her high electric bill for her all-electric home.

Council agreed to increase the monthly water rate by $11 now and revisit the matter in six months.