COVINGTON — Covington Council unanimously approved increases to village water and sewer rates during their meeting on Monday evening after previously tabling the ordinance last month.
Village Administrator Mike Busse explained that the ordinance includes an increase of $7.14 per month per equivalent user, with a 3 percent annual rate increase for years 2020 through 2024. The ordinance is eliminating the current monthly meter maintenance fee of $5.11 and adding a water tower maintenance fee of $8 under the water fees. The sewer capital charge per unit will also increase from the current $6.38 to $10.63. The changes will be effective in June.
Council member Bud Weer responded to criticism by saying that the council and village staff have been following issues with their water and sewer infrastructure since 2006 and that these added costs are due to EPA requirements. In reference to the village water tower specifically, Weer said that they adopted a maintenance contract in order to avoid higher costs in the future.
“We knew we had big problems on our water tower,” Weer said. He went on to say, “What we chose to do is to do it in phases over a 10-year period when we could afford it. Now, we could have chose to bury our head in the damn sand and not do a damn thing.”
Weer said that they would be in the same position as Miamisburg, calling their water tower “a bucket of rust.”
“We spread it out so we could do it, because we didn’t have a choice,” Weer said. “We had to do something, or we wouldn’t have any water tower.”
Weer said that the same thing happened in regard to the water and sewer plants around 2006.
“We had a big meeting in here with the EPA, and they toured the plant, and it wasn’t pretty,” Weer said.
He said the EPA required the village to make improvements.
“We’re not doing this stuff out of our hind end to do, we’re doing it because we’re mandated to do it,” Weer said. “And it costs an ungodly amount of money.”
The vote also came after village residents raised questions about council members meeting outside of regularly scheduled council meetings, ongoing projects like the High Street reconstruction project, and village operations.
Resident Joyce Robertson asked for a definition of Ohio’s Sunshine Laws about when council members can speak to each other in private, and she asked if three or more of the council members had a meeting together on April 18. Village attorney Frank Patrizio clarified that it was not illegal for council members to meet together outside of regularly scheduled meetings to discuss village items in a committee as long as there was not a quorum, which is the majority of the council, or an agenda.
Mayor Ed McCord and Busse each said that they were unsure about any unscheduled meetings on April 18 with council members. Patrizio added that council members can meet with Busse at any time to discuss village issues. Busse said that he had met with each of the council members since their last council meeting in April to discuss the proposed water and sewer rates.
Robertson also asked questions about the High Street reconstruction project expected to take place in three years, such as in regard to the costs, parking concerns, and accessibility to downtown businesses. The village is expected to receive a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for approximately $2.1 million for the project. Busse said that they are applying for additional funding for water and sewer line replacements to take place on High Street.
In regard to parking concerns and accessibility to the downtown, Busse said that they do not have many definitive answers yet and that it will ultimately be up to ODOT as they will be managing the project. Busse said they have been planning out possible areas for people to park during the construction as well as access to buildings on High Street.
Robertson also asked if Busse was planning on hiring an assistant. Busse said that there is an open position with the village, but not to be his assistant. He said that they are looking to hire a supervisor for the water and sewer plants who is a licensed operator. Busse said they are short-staffed in that area due to an employee being out on sick leave and another being on light duty, and the village is required to have a licensed operator onsite at the water and sewer plants for a total of 20 hours each week.
“I have to hire licensed people here to cover those hours,” Busse said.
He added that the village has incentives for other village employees to become licensed operators for the water and sewer plants, but they have not had any other village employees become licensed. Busse said this position is not an additional position being added, but was a position that was previously vacated. The village decided to make it a requirement that the new hire is a licensed operator. Busse also answered additional questions about his position.
Resident Kathy Miller expressed concerns about people parking too close to crosswalks, such as during sporting events. She offered to have volunteers paint the curbs yellow. McCord said that Busse and he would discuss it. Miller also asked about the village’s portion of a state gas tax and questioned a possible discrepancy between what the village received and the state’s allocation of funds to the village.
Resident David Besecker questioned raising the rates in the water and sewer funds when there are surpluses of funds in those accounts.
“It just doesn’t make sense to keep raising the rates,” Besecker said.
Resident Nanette Gibson also asked the council not to raise the rates, expressing concerns about other village residents keeping up with the cost of living and medical bills.
Other agenda items received mixed support after the council voted to approve the new rates. The purchase of new meter reading software from Buckeye State Pipe at a cost of $11,825 and a handheld reading tablet from Badger Meter at a cost of $3,816 was approved five to one with council member Lois Newman voting against the purchase. Newman also voted against a liquor control TREX transfer application for Casey’s General Store, but the item was still approved by five votes.
Two agenda items failed, including a quote for a tree removal service from Gunkel. Newman and other council members Dawn Duff, Judy Smith, and Keith Warner voted against that item. Another agenda item, the paving of the alley from High to Pearl streets adjacent to Fraley’s Funeral Home parking lot, died for a lack of a motion.
The council also tabled a street sweeping contract.
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