PIQUA — The Piqua City Commission unanimously approved raising water and wastewater rates for the next four years during their meeting on Tuesday evening.
The voting took place after the commission heard the third readings of ordinances that will raise water rates by 10 percent for each new year beginning with 2017 and ending with 2020. Wastewater rates will also increase by 20 percent each year for the next four years.
These increases are meant to pay for the new Water Treatment Plant along with other water and wastewater infrastructure projects, including the water lines for the new plant, new water lines, the new water tower, expanding the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the citywide automated metering system
The commission, City Manager Gary Huff, and Finance Director Cynthia Holtzapple spoke extensively with the community on these rates, with the main message being that city had no choice. They repeatedly said that if they did not raise the rates in order to pay back the debt service for the low-interest loans for those water infrastructure projects, the city would be in a worse off position in future. The city could have been forced to obtain higher-interest loans from the open bond market in order to finance those projects or faced fines of $50,000 per day per violation from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should the city have lost its permits.
The commission and city officials received a mixture of support, concerns, and backlash from the public for these rate increases.
“The more I look into this, the more I become frustrated. These rates are not feasible,” Chuck Starrett of Piqua said. “These rates are going to put a turmoil on so many of our people and our industries.”
Bradley Boehringer of Piqua said that his utilities were included in his rent and asked the commission, “Are you prepared to pay my rent increases?”
Kathy Sherman of Piqua spoke in support of the commission and of taking care of the city’s water and wastewater infrastructure. Sherman drew upon her experience as a bank employee, explaining that banks need to see that the person or entity they are loaning money to has the cash flow to pay it back, which is why the city is raising the rates.
Huff explained later in the meeting that, for the new Water Treatment Plant, the city will have to pay a combined $4 million per year on the loan and the current water rates only total approximately $600,000.
“We have to do what’s right,” Sherman said.
Chris Lee of Piqua mentioned that he has a family of seven people and that he understood that he will have to work more to pay for their increasing bills, but he voiced concerns about elderly residents and people on fixed incomes.
“Some people may move,” Lee said. “I understand the rates have to go up … I’m worried about the people who can’t pay.”
Becca Lindeman of Piqua said that while nobody likes having their rates go up, the city needed to take care of the infrastructure.
“If we let this go longer, it’s going to get worse later,” Lindeman said. “Our infrastructure is really important, and we need to take care of it.”
After further discussion, Commissioner Bill Vogt said, “I’m in the same boat as you are … We’re building up money so we can pay out loan. Do I like it? No.”
“This is a tough thing,” Mayor Kazy Hinds said. “The reality is, because of a variety of things, this is where we find ourselves.”
A similar discussion with the public took place before the commission voted on increases for the wastewater rates, during which Huff explained how the city sought out alternative options before deciding on expanding the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Huff also said that this process has been going on since 2002 and they have until February 2020 to eliminate their sanitary sewer overflow from the plant, which is untreated wastewater entering the river.
“It’s an unpopular decision, but unfortunately the time has come,” Commissioner Judy Terry said. “It’s something we have to do.”
The remainder of the commission’s legislation was voted on after press time.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3336