PIQUA — The Piqua City Commission on Tuesday evening heard the first readings of two ordinances that would raise water and wastewater rates.
If approved, water rates would increase by 10 percent for each new year beginning with 2017 and ending with 2020. Wastewater rates would also increase by 20 percent each year for the next four years.
“We are faced with the issues of an almost 100-year-old water treatment plant,” City Manager Gary Huff said.
Huff said that, due to standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the current plant cannot meet them, and so the building of the new water treatment plant began.
“Also included in this other infrastructure that we have to be prepared for, to operate and cover debt service, loan repayments, and so forth,” Huff said, citing the pump station, the water lines for the new plant, the new water tower, and the automated metering system.”These are the necessary requirements for fees to be able to pay for those facilities.”
Huff said that there has been a “tremendous amount of infrastructure that has been required” by the EPA in order to meet their standards. He also explained that the city has to provide a sufficient financial plan in order to receive grants and low-interest loans and these increases are a part of those plans.
“The city, in large part due to EPA mandates, has and will continue in the future to invest in multiple water facility and infrastructure replacements and updates,” Finance Director Cynthia Holtzapple said, citing the projects that Huff mentioned. “Generous donations, over $1 million in grants, and borrowing at historically low interest rates have helped with overall costs.”
Holtzapple added later that the overall goal of the city is to keep water rates as low as possible.
According to an exhibit included in the agenda, the average monthly rate for a residential home with four people will increase from $61.88 to $68.07. For a small commercial business, it will increase from $137.15 to $147.09. For an industrial business, it will increase from $2,041.63 to $2,245.16.
The charges for the installation of new water services is also set to increase for the next four years in this ordinance.
“I hate to have an increase on anything,” Commissioner Joe Wilson said.
Wilson said that if the commission decided just to say no and not comply with the EPA standards that the city would lose their license and face a fine of up to $10,000 per day.
Huff also noted that “someone would go to jail” if the city did not meet those unfunded EPA requirements that the city has to pay to have completed.
Wilson also cited Flint, Mich., which is still recovering from their water crisis in which the city of Flint was found to have lead in their water supply starting around April 2014.
“We have no choice,” Wilson said, calling the increases “painful” to make.
Wastewater service fees will also increase by 20 percent each year for the next four years under the following ordinance, which do not appear to be effective until October. The base charges of operation and maintenance as well as capital costs appear to be combined under the new system. The previous combined cost for the total base charge of $9.66 for the first 1,000 gallons per month will increase to $16.67 in October and to $20 in 2018.
After the first 1,000 gallons, the volume charge per 1,000 gallons will increase from the combined cost of $3.05 to $5.27 in October and $6.32 in 2018.
Those increased costs were also attributed to unfunded EPA mandates that require significant wastewater plant expansion to be made.
Commissioner Bill Vogt questioned why it was 20 percent versus 10 percent.
Holtzapple said that the city investigated cheaper options before having to go through with a wastewater plant expansion project. Holtzapple also explained that wastewater facilities do not last as long as water treatment plants, so the borrowing times for loan may be shorter terms.
Holtzapple also explained that funds for the water and wastewater facilities have to be self-supporting, meaning that the city does not have the option to subsidize those improvements with the city’s general fund.
“We have a lot of people in this city that are on Social Security … they’re not getting 20 percent increases,” Vogt said. “It’s hard for me to do this to people. I don’t know what the answer is.”
In other news:
The commission approved 2 percent raises for city employees along with the employee insurance for 2017, waiving the third reading of those ordinances.
The remainder of the agenda items were voted on after press time.
Prior to the beginning of the meeting, the commission went into executive session for an hour to discuss negotiations on compensation.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3336