WEST ALEXANDRIA — West Alexandria Village Council discussed proposed water and sewer rate hikes during its monthly meeting Monday, March 16.
At the top of Monday’s meeting, Mayor Jeff Hickey announced the village Utility Clerk’s office would be shut down indefinitely on Friday in response to growing concerns about village employees being exposed to the coronavirus. Mayor’s Court and the West Alexandria Fire Department’s weekly bingo night will also be suspended until further notice.
“All we can do is hope things get better before they get worse,” Hickey said after announcing the moves.
Wayne Cannon, Rural Development Specialist at Leesburg, Ohio-based Great Lakes Community Action Partnership, delivered a presentation to council via teleconference. Cannon discussed the findings of a Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP) study his firm had conducted to help council determine rates for water and sewer service in the village.
Cannon explained that he’d analyzed five years worth of data – including customer count, previous rates, and information on the amount of water consumed by the village – and found that, in addition to the village adding no new water and sewer service customers, it is also losing water at a rate of 35.6 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that water loss fall below 15 percent.
“As pipes and valves start to deteriorate, water loss will increase,” Cannon said. “You’re going to need to do a better job of maintaining that stuff.”
Cannon proposed that, in order to “break even” on water service and address maintenance concerns presumed to be causing the leaks, rates in the village should be increased by 12 percent annually over the next three years.
In addition, Cannon suggested a 12 percent increase in sewer service rates spread over two years to cover operating costs for the village’s new wastewater treatment facility, which he projected to be about $200,000 per year.
Preliminary engineering reports had indicated that operating costs for the facility would be around $86,000 annually, according to council. Cannon said he was unsurprised by this.
“From my experience reading these reports, it’s not incredibly unusual for the estimated cost to be more than doubled,” Cannon said.
Council also voted to accept a bid from Kentucky-based Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group to perform interior and exterior renovations on the village water tower at a cost of about $84,000. A less expensive bid from Greenfield, Indiana-based Leary Construction Company was rejected, as it would have utilized a coating for the interior of the tank that would only last five to seven years. The Pittsburg bid’s coating will reportedly last 15 to 20 years.
Village Fire Department Chief Jeff Shafer proposed using money carried over from the department’s 2019 budget to perform repairs to the fire station, including replacing doors, windows, and stucco on the side of the building.
“We need to find a way to put some money into the infrastructure that we have,” Shafer said.
Council member Holly Robbins countered that unused funds from the previous year’s budget do not carry over.
“If you have $20,000 and you spend $18,000, the remaining two goes into the $20,000 for next year,” Robbins said.
Council member Dan Utsinger, meanwhile, proposed reducing the department’s budget if they have a surplus each year. Shafter countered that he likes to keep a “rainy day” fund on hand in case of unexpected expenses or repairs.
“I try to be a good steward of the village’s money,” Shafer said.
Robbins also proposed replacing a stop light at the intersection of U.S. 35 and Vogue St. The light would cost about $16,000 to replace, according to Robbins, and the village would be responsible for raising those funds, as installation of the light was never approved by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
A flashing light activated by a button placed at either end of the crosswalk, however, would be covered by funding from ODOT. Some council members felt this might pose a danger to young people trying to cross the street on their way to school, however, as the flashing light does not actually require drivers to stop.
Council ultimately tabled the issue for further consideration.
West Alexandria Village Council meetings will now take place the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Twin Valley South Middle School Media Center.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish