Council changes surcharge language

COLUMBIANA – City Council officially changed legislation this week to make sure money collected through a surcharge on city water would be put toward the new water plant construction alone, and not anything else.

Mayor Bryan Blakeman questioned the original legislation at the last meeting, noting it stated the money would be put toward healthcare, salaries and insurance and capital improvements related to the plant.

City Manager Lance Willard said after the meeting the ordinance featured standard wording, and Councilman Lowell Schloneger said during the meeting he didn’t believe it needed to be changed since “capital improvements” was listed.

He agreed to the amendment, however, which council members said was needed since the purpose of the $11 surcharge to users is to show to the United States Department of Agriculture (UDSA) it will have the ability to pay back the 40-year, two-percent interest loan.

The agency has awarded a roughly $10 million loan and $4 million grant to cover a majority of the cost of the new plant that will be constructed on the same property as the existing plant, last estimated at upwards of $22 million, although the engineering firm in charge of the project is re-working that cost.

City Council tossed out construction bids last year because they all came in over the minimum threshold and once Arcadis is finished with the new bid package it will be re-bid.

The surcharge will take effect for all city users on June 1. Rates will remain at $6.54 per 1,000 gallons for city users and $9.81 per 1,000 gallons for users outside the city.

Schloneger said the surcharge will build up more than $1 million over two years to put toward the project, and that will save money in the long run.

“By saving this money ahead of time we save $582,560 by having a million to put down on the water plant,” he said.

He then called out Mayor Bryan Blakeman, who said he didn’t want his name associated with the increase at the last meeting.

“I was confused, on the front page of the paper you said you didn’t want to be associated with this payment (but you said) the school and us didn’t save money toward these things, but here is a way you can save money ahead of time,” he said.

Blakeman countered he was putting words in his mouth and accused the press of putting words in his mouth.

“What I said I wouldn’t put my name on was any language for healthcare and salaries I didn’t write the article,” he said.

But Schloneger and Councilman Dick Simpson agreed what he said was he didn’t want his name associated with the cost increase.

Simpson also said he spoke with the USDA before he made the motion at the last meeting to enact the surcharge, and they were in favor of $11 now, an additional $4 in six months and yet another $4 six months after that. However, council opted not to decide on the additional $8 until finding out the new estimated cost of the project.

Willard anticipates they should know the figures in the coming months, and council has already approved revisiting the matter in six months.

The amendment approved by council changed the ordinance to read “a surcharge of $11 needs to be imposed upon users of the city water system in order to accommodate a portion of the anticipated cost of the pending water treatment plant project.”