Service-safety director has final say on rate hike

EAST LIVERPOOL — Whether or not water customers see an increase in their bills over the next three years apparently rests not with City Council but with Service-Safety Director Brian Allen.

During its recent meeting, the utilities committee recommended that council approve a 14 percent water increase this year, effective June 1, followed by 10 percent increases each of the next two years, based on financial information provided by utilities Director Tim Clark.

At Monday night’s council meeting, however, no legislation to that effect was in evidence, and during his report, utilities committee Chairman Tom Cunningham said that, in discussion with Law Director Charles Payne and Allen, it was determined the rate hike was not dependent upon a vote of council but could be put into place by the administration.

Allen said during his report he would like council to give the public an opportunity over three meetings to express opinions on the proposed increases, followed by a voice vote or resolution by council either in support or opposition to the measure.

After the meeting, Allen was asked about this turn of events, since it initially appeared that, with the recent dissolution of the Board of Public Utilities, council would be voting on the water increase as it always has sewage rate hikes.

He said he had learned just at 3:30 p.m. that day that council does not have a say in the matter after Clark went to the law director’s office to pick up legislation authorizing the increase and was advised that, with dissolution of the BPU, 100 percent of its authority was delegated to the SSD.

“We were preparing for it to be on the agenda for a first reading tonight,” Allen said. “Until today, I was under the impression that rate hikes went through council.”

Asked why, then, he has asked council for a vote of support or opposition and to allow the public to voice its opinion if he makes the ultimate decision, Allen said, “I believe residents should have a chance to voice their thoughts, and council is a regularly scheduled meeting (where) they can do that. As for the resolution, I would like to know how council feels about the increase.”

He also said council could, by ordinance, assume the authority for voting on rate hikes, saying, “I wish they would.”

If the rate hike is approved, it will mean an additional $1.04 per 1,000 gallons the first year for customers.