By DAVID GREEN
It took a vote by acting mayor Craig Rower to break a tie Thursday night at the Fayette council meeting.
Rower cast a “no” vote against a proposed nine percent increase in the village water and sewer fees and so, for now, the utility will continue to operate in the red.
Following a lengthy discussion of the issue, Jerry Gonzales, Paul Shaffer and Mike Maginn voted against the increase. Julia Ruger, Ruth Marlatt and Ken Delphous supported the rate hike.
The village utility fund first went into the red in 2008 and money had to be taken from the enhancement fund—designated for maintenance and replacement costs.
The nine percent increase proposed for this year only would have provided a temporary fix by keeping the utility out of the red through 2010. Without any subsequent increase, projections show the cash reserves in the enhancement fund also running out of money by 2013, assuming an annual three percent increase for inflation.
At the June 8 Finance Committee meeting, Gonzales suggested a three percent increase for 2009—a move that would cover costs for the current year—but that option was not mentioned Thursday.
Fayette resident Denise Jensen said a survey she and her husband, Joe, undertook shows strong opposition to any increase.
Jensen said she asked 50 residents to give a “yes” or “no” vote on the statement, “I agree with the Fayette village council to raise my water and sewer rates by nine percent.” Only one person voted “yes.”
“They feel the water rates are already too high,” Jensen said. “They’re just trying to make ends meet. They don’t need a rate increase, they don’t need higher taxes.”
She said many people were unaware of the proposed increase because they don’t read the newspaper.
Village administrator Amy Metz presented councilors with a list of water rates from area communities compiled by the Village of Swanton. The average cost for 6,000 gallons of water is $67.01. Fayette appears in the middle of the list and a little below average at $65.72.
Councilor Mike Maginn suggested that the cost of water is high because the Ohio EPA forces the village to clean it.
Utilities supervisor Bob Seigneur mentioned that softening also adds to the cost.
The actual softening process isn’t so expensive, Metz said, but the softening unit costs in excess of $100,000. She mentioned the cost of repairing numerous breaks in the water lines, with some pipes dating back to 1907. Most everything under the ground is old and needs to be replaced, she said.
Metz asked the guests if they had any suggestions since other cuts in spending have already been made.
Joe Jensen asked if elected officials had been contacted—Gonzales said they had—and he later suggested a village sales tax of one percent. This would spread the cost around, he said, by bringing in extra money from people who shopped while passing through town.
Maginn didn’t think a sales tax would be good for local businesses who are already competing against out-of-town “big box” stores.
Gonzales said the water and sewer fund needs to pay for itself.
“I agree with you that people can’t afford it, but we need to break even,” he said. “I don’t think it’s time to ask for a surplus, but it’s got to break even.”
Audience member Rodney Kessler said he agrees that times are tough, but he believes it’s in the best interest of the community to pass the measure.
Delphous moved to increase the fees, but the proposal failed.
GRANTS—Metz told council the village failed to receive CDBG funds for the West Industrial Parkway Project and for street repairs. She will inquire about why funding was not awarded.