By DAVID GREEN
If Thursday’s hearing on water and sewer rates is any indication, look for a spilt vote June 11 when village council members are scheduled to vote on increasing rates.
Councilors and audience members alike expressed views on both sides of the issue.
Some likened the proposed nine percent increase to the cost of a dinner out. Others said residents can’t afford any increase in fees and blamed the village’s problems on having to meet the demands of the Ohio EPA.
Village administrator Amy Metz started the hearing by explaining the shortfall in revenue needed to operate the water distribution and sewage treatment systems.
Revenue fell by $13,500 in 2008 due to vacant homes and a slowdown in industrial activity, Metz said, but trouble was already on the way before that.
Expenses exceeded revenue by $2,742 in 2008, but even if revenue rebounded to previous levels, costs would outpace revenue in 2011. By 2013, all of the cash reserves from the debt service fund would be gone and the fund would be in the red.
This projection includes the current proposal—a nine percent increase in rates for 2009 only. Projections with continuing increases would put the fund in the black.
With the nine percent increase in 2009, Metz said a typical user (7,000 gallons of water usage each quarter) would see a quarterly increase in fees of $7.12, or $28.48 a year.
Metz also read a document prepared by the village utilities engineer, Bob Seigneur, stating several consequences of the failure to increase rates.
Seigneur wrote that the village would have no long term control plan to alleviate sewage overflows to submit to the Ohio EPA, nor would it be able to accept federal funding for sewer projects.
Seigneur said the village could abandon its treatment system and construct a pipeline to Archbold or to a centrally located facility, but he doesn’t favor giving up control of the process. He believes the village would still face considerable costs in maintaining its own storm water system.
“I’m really torn about this,” said council member Jerry Gonzales. “I’m against [the increase]. I don’t think we can afford it.”
On the other hand, he said, there’s a push for small communities to tie in with regional systems and then the local representation is lost.
“That’s why we need to increase our rates now,” village employee Tom Rupp said, to avoid losing local control.
If the village can’t afford to take care of what it has now, he said, it won’t be able to provide water and sewer services.
Rupp suggested that people need to set priorities, such as going out for dinner less often to pay for the increase.
Denise Jensen said that with bad economic conditions, increasing the rates is the last thing council should be discussing.
Another audience member suggested that increasing rates will drive people out of town, but police chief Jason Simon asked where they would go to find rates cheaper than Fayette’s.
Metz said the village would be eligible to receive $4 million in loans and $2 million in grants from federal stimulus funds, but she noted the competition is stiff with so many communities needing help with projects.
Simon said the village wouldn’t receive funding because the Ohio EPA hasn’t approved Fayette’s long term plans.
“When will the EPA approve the plans that we submitted?” asked acting mayor Craig Rower. “Will the paper print that?”
Former village administrator Tom Spiess said the plan calls for an initial project that was already in the works, then takes a break of about seven years. He’s guessing that the Ohio EPA might be concerned about the lapse.ng. She thinks the issue should be put on a ballot for the public to decide, and Gonzales agreed.
“We need to do something,” he said. “Maybe a three percent increase and then see how the economy goes.”
Councilor Ruth Marlatt said council can’t continue to let the water and sewer fund go in the red.
“How fiscally responsible do we look as a village?” she asked.
Gonzales urged audience members to let council know of any ideas they have to deal with the cash shortfall.(Buy an on-line subscription for full article)