Trish Bennett, Editor
CIRCLEVILLE – City council held the first reading of a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would increase local utility bills $6 per month to help with capital expenditures at the wastewater treatment plant.
The $6 service charge for each sewer user will allow the utility department to pay for upcoming projects, cover debts and create a “nest egg” for future expenditures, according to Nathan Anderson, director of public utilities.
Anderson addressed council members about the ordinance at the service committee meeting held Nov. 24, and the proposed legislation was brought to full council this week.
Anderson said the utility department has at least five necessary projects at the wastewater treatment plant and needs a way to pay for them. A $6 service charge for about 5,150 sewer customers, both inside and outside the city limits, would generate about $370,000 per year, which could be used as matching funds for grants, equipment purchases, payment of contractors or repayment of loans necessary to complete the projects.
“This is funding that we need in the bank in order to start working on the projects,” Anderson said. “We can’t be behind the eight ball when we have a lot of projects coming into town right now.”
The $6 service charge would be in addition to a $9 service charge already added to each utility bill for water and sewer services. That would make a minimum bill $15 per month before any usage charges are applied.
That fact caused concerns for some members of council, who worried that minimal users of the city’s water and sewer system could be paying more in service charges than actual usage if the ordinance is approved.
Anderson said the service charge distributed evenly between all users of the sewer system would guarantee a set funding amount for improvements at the wastewater plant.
“Everyone needs the wastewater plant,” he said. “That’s why it’s important that everyone pays this fee. This is funding we need in the bank in order to start working on the projects.”
Anderson said the first two of five necessary projects could begin right away if the ordinance is approved by council, including replacement of influent raw sewage pumping and rehabilitation of primary and secondary clarifiers and the sludge thickener.
Additional projects on the list include headworks and dewatering improvements, aeration system improvements and solids handling improvements to the 40-year-old wastewater treatment plant.
“Much of the existing equipment has exceeded its useful service life, some equipment is near complete failure and processes at the [plant] are still based on 1970s technology,” Anderson said. “Some projects will rehab or replace the existing equipment, while others will modernize processes that are typically installed in new plants. With all of the anticipated development being proposed in the city and the county, we need to be proactive and get our plant projects up and moving so we are prepared for the anticipated growth.”
He said the plan is to have all projects completed within 10 years.
At the Nov. 24 committee meeting, council member Barry Keller said he just wanted assurance that the projects would be completed.
“If council approves this increase, I just want to make sure we’re going to do the work,” Keller said. “If we approve the rate increase and the money starts flowing in, I want to make sure the work gets done and we aren’t just holding money.”
Anderson said council will have the ability to reevaluate the $6 charge at the end of 2017 and decide at that time whether to keep the charge in place, reduce it or remove it altogether.
Though the ordinance was brought to council Tuesday with an emergency clause for immediate passage, council members voted to hold it for at least one more reading before holding a vote. The next reading is set for Dec. 15.
This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal