COVINGTON — A number of residents asked the Covington Council to reconsider increases to the water and sewer rates during its meeting on Monday, prompting a contentious response from Mayor Ed McCord, directed at former council member Joyce Robertson, and causing the council to table the proposed ordinance.
Village Administrator Mike Busse explained in prior meetings that the proposed ordinance would include an increase of $7.14 per month per equivalent user, with a 3 percent annual increase for years 2020 through 2024.
If implemented, the monthly water usage fee would be $3.75 per 1,000 gallons for the first 6,000 gallons of water and then $3.41 for 6,000 gallons and above. The village also would eliminate a meter maintenance fund fee for customers and implement an $8 monthly water tower maintenance fee per customer unit. The sewer monthly usage fee based on water meter reading would be $3.54 per 1,000 gallons of water used. Each of the fees would then increase by 3 percent each year through 2024.
The council was scheduled to vote on this ordinance after its third reading, but the council unanimously voted to table the ordinance following the comments from residents. The council is expected to discuss the proposed increases to the water and sewer rates at their next meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 6.
“We have our own family budgets. We have to live within them, so we ask you to live within a reasonable village budget,” Covington resident and former council member Joyce Roberston said. Robertson talked about how the increases will impact her monthly bills, including her trash bills, the rates of which were increased in September.
“You are outpacing the raises we get in our pay, which is not fair to the citizens of this community who are struggling to make ends meet,” Roberston said. “You give employees 3 percent raises on average, which we don’t get, and you vote to implement automatic increases of 3 percent or 5 percent on utility bills.”
Robertson listed recent purchases, like an automated trash truck at a cost of approximately $265,752 that was approved in October 2018. At that time, Busse explained the village’s current automated trash truck was in need of approximately $20,000 worth of repairs.
Robertson also mentioned the purchase of a new backhoe that replaced their previous backhoe that the village obtained in the 1990’s. The cost of the new backhoe was approximately $99,113 and approved by a vote of 5-1 in October 2017. The village sold their old backhoe on an internet auction for $14,654, which was more than the backhoe’s trade-in value.
Robertson also went over other village vehicle purchases in recent years, including two police cruisers and a snow plow. Robertson also directed a comment about decals costing extra for the trash truck to council member Keith Warner.
Robertson was not on the council at the time the purchase of the automated trash truck was approved, but she was on the council at the time of the purchase of the backhoe. She voted in approval of the backhoe. Council member Lois Newman, who is a current sitting council member, voted against the purchase.
Robertson finished her statement by questioning meeting procedures.
“Why is there no discussion regarding ordinances before votes are taken? Why the rush to get through council meetings?” Robertson said. She went on to say, “Citizens should be made to feel welcome and invited to stay and see their government in action.” She also added that residents “need to feel that you’re not trying to hide things from us.”
Mayor Ed McCord responded and appeared heated at moments, pointing out that Robertson was a previous council member up until 2018 and had voted in approval of a number of similar purchases.
“During those eight years, how many times were those things you just (brought up) purchased? And how many times did you vote yes?” McCord said. McCord cut off Robertson before she could respond, and he said, “Before you stood up here and criticize these people — and I’m going to stick up for them because they won’t stick up for themselves because they’re too nice — but when you criticize us, Joyce, you were on this council and … not once did you say we rushed through a council meeting, not once did you say you never had a chance to ask a question. When you sat on this council, you should have brought those things to us.”
Robertson said that she tried, but McCord argued with Robertson and spoke over her, calling one of her previous comments “unprofessional” and saying, “We respect people here.”
“Before you criticize us … you need to look at these people and let them know that you were on council for eight years and you voted for those things because you understood the reasons why we needed them,” McCord said. “And nothing is done up here without a reason. Any of you folks want to ask any of these people why we do things up here, please do so, they’ll give you an honest answer. We don’t purchase stuff unless we need it.”
McCord also said that all village purchases are discussed openly during council meetings, pointing out that the council never goes into executive session.
Later on, Busse addressed a number of the reasons why water and sewer rates were increasing, which included upgrades to the Wastewater Treatment Plant and the village pumping stations, the cost of transporting sludge out of the plant, and more. The Wastewater Treatment Plant is currently getting new blowers to replace equipment from 1982, and it is expected that the plant will also need to get an equalization basin per Ohio EPA requirements that will allow the plant to handle high flow periods, such as during heavy rain events. Council member Bud Weer said that the council decided to do these upgrades in phases to save money.
Other village residents spoke during public comment, including Nanette Gibson of Covington, who said, “I did not get a 3 percent raise on my social security, and I’m pretty sure nobody else did because I know it was 2.8 percent.” Gibson said that people on Medicare are also facing increased costs and went over the poverty rate in Covington, saying that it was 17.7 percent at the last census and the current estimated poverty rate is at 18.2 percent. Gibson also pointed out that the council reduced the income tax credit by 1 percent given to income tax paid to other municipalities in order to keep up with the cost of maintaining the village. Resident taxpayers of the village receive 0.5 percent credit for income paid to another municipality, down from the previous 1.5 percent.
“I can never catch up,” Gibson said. “Please think about what you’re asking for these citizens in this little village,” Gibson said.
David Besecker of Covington questioned the automatic increases and asked what is being done to keep costs done.
“We can’t afford this,” Besecker said.
Later during the meeting after the public comment portion of the meeting had ended, a resident questioned some of McCord’s comments and suggested that McCord had “attacked” some of the people who had spoken during the meeting. McCord offered to speak to him after the meeting and declined to respond.
Also during their meeting, the council was scheduled to vote on a 2019 street sweeping contract with Contract Sweepers. Weer made a motion for approval for approval. There was no second to the motion, so the legislation died for a lack of second and was not approved.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org