PIQUA — More questions were heard during the Piqua City Commission meeting Tuesday evening in regard to possible increases for water and wastewater rates.
The commission heard the second readings of ordinances that would raise water rates 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.
The average monthly water 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.
Commissioner Joe Wilson asked if it would jeopardize the city’s loan for the new Water Treatment Plant if the city just raised the rates for the next two years before re-evaluating if it was still necessary to raise rates for the subsequent years.
Finance Director Cynthia Holtzapple said that she would not advise doing that, as the city needs to be able to provide a four- to five-year rate schedule to demonstrate how the city will meet their debt service with their zero-interest and low-interest loans.
Commission Judy Terry asked about programs for senior citizens and others living on fixed incomes that would help them pay for utilities.
Holtzapple advised people to contact the utility office as people may need to meet federal poverty level standards.
“It’s possible that some would qualify for that,” Holtzapple said.
Commissioner Bill Vogt asked if that applied to younger people or only senior citizens living on Social Security. Holtzapple explained that there are some temporary relief programs available through organizations like HEAP and the Salvation Army for younger families.
“We help families and citizens with these type of things everyday,” Holtzapple said.
Wastewater service fees increases do not appear to be effective until October should they be approved. 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.
“We’re in a situation that many communities are in,” Holtzapple said.
Holtzapple said that the city is still in the best situation overall to move forward with wastewater infrastructure projects due to zero-interest loans being made available.
“I still think we need a two-year deal,” Wilson said about the rate increases.
“You may not obtain the loan,” City Manager Gary Huff said, advising against raising the rates for only the next two years.
“My concern is we’re raising it 20 percent,” Vogt said, noting residents who are living on Social Security who may have only received a 3 percent increase. “I have to pay these, too, and I fit in that 3 percent category, and I’m not happy about it at all.”
When asked about raising the rates by half the amount over double the years, Holtzapple said that they would not have enough funds to pay for the debt service. The funds for the water and wastewater facilities also have to be self-supporting, meaning that the city does not have the option to subsidize those improvements with the city’s general fund.
“You’ve got a tough battle,” Chuck Starrett of Piqua said.
Starrett said that he compared costs of neighboring cities as well as provided an example of what the increased costs would look like over time for a family of four. “The 10 percent and 20 percent just seems like a number pulled out of the air,” he said. “I don’t see how the wage scale can adapt to that … What I see is more shut-offs.”
Starrett added later, “I know it’s a tough decision.”
Vogt commented that the sitting commission in 1980 had a choice to expand the wastewater plant at that time that would have prevented the types of issues the city is currently facing, but that commission “cut corners” and decided against it.
“We are in such pain for the decision they made,” Vogt said. “We’re paying for it.”
During another public comment session at the meeting, Piqua resident Thomas Beck asked the commission to keep in mind the average median income for the city when making decisions, which Huff stated was approximately $38,000. Beck noted that if that is the median income, there are many people living below it.
“I think priorities aren’t quite where they need to be,” Beck said. “I know you have to make a lot of tough decisions.”
These ordinances are expected to be voted on at the commission’s next regular meeting on Jan. 17.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the commission approved the purchase of property for a new fire station. The property is located at 110 S. Downing St. and is currently the Piqua Car Wash and Vac, LLC. The purchase price is not to exceed $139,000 and has been budgeted for 2017.
The commission also approved advertising for project bids in the Piqua Daily Call.
They then approved participating in the Great Miami Riverway Coalition at a cost of $14,500 for the first year. There are 12 other communities between Sidney and Hamilton intending to participate in the coalition.
“There’s a lot of good energy up and down the river,” City Planner Chris Schmiesing said.
The commission then approved rezoning 608 Weber St. from residential to general business as there is a carry-out business currently operating at that location.
For the final piece of legislation, the commission approved amending an agreement with 292 Design Group by an increase of $1,000 for the Community Center Campus Feasibility Plan.
The commission also recognized the public service of former Wastewater Superintendent David Davis. Mayor Kazy Hinds called Davis’ 32 years of working for the city “faithful and dedicated service.”
“Thank you so much for your many, many years of service,” Hinds said.
“I would just like to thank the commission and my wife for putting up with me,” Davis said.
“We didn’t just put up with him. He did a fantastic job,” Huff said.
Reach Sam Wildow at email@example.com or (937) 451-3336