WEST ALEXANDRIA — Council voted to increase rates for water and sewer service in the village and debated the necessity of a number of other expenditures during its monthly meeting Monday, April 20.
The current base rate for water service in the village will increase from $26.50 per month for the first 3500 gallons (plus $3 per additional 1000 gallons) to $29.68 (plus $3.36 per additional 1000 gallons), according to councilman Dan Utsinger. Sewer rates will increase from $36 (plus $6 per 1000 gallons) to $41.76 (plus $6.96 per 1000 gallons). Water rates for out of town customers will increase from a base rate of $53 (plus $6 per 1000 gallons) to $59.36 (plus $6.72).
The average user in the village proper can expect their bill for water, sewer and trash service to increase by about $12 per month, according to Utsinger. The new rates will go into effect May 1.
Wayne Cannon, of Leesburg, Ohio-based Great Lakes Community Action Partnership, delivered a presentation to council via teleconference during its March 16 meeting. Cannon discussed the findings of a Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP) study his firm had conducted. The study reportedly found that the village is losing water at a rate of over 35 percent.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that water loss fall below 15 percent, according to Cannon.
Cannon also revealed during the March 16 meeting that in order to “break even” on water service and address maintenance concerns, rates in the village would have to be increased by 12 percent annually over the next three years. In addition, Cannon suggested a 12 percent increase in sewer service rates to cover operating costs for the village’s new wastewater treatment facility, which he projected to average about $200,000 per year.
The vote was a contentious one, with council member Zach Shafer coming down strongly against the adoption of new rates.
“Do you just want to see the rates cheaper?” council member Ashley Myers asked.
“Absolutely,” Shafer replied.
Council member Shannon Smith indicated he was also conflicted about the rate increase.
“I think it’s safe to say none of us are big fans of having to do this,” Smith said.
The rate increases were ultimately approved by council by a vote of five to one. Council also moved to waive the customary second and third readings of the ordinances — which would have taken place during subsequent meetings – in favor of adopting the measures immediately.
“In my opinion, this rate study should have been done before one shovel hit the ground for the construction of the new wastewater treatment plant,” Shafer said in a written statement provided to The Register-Herald. “We have a vastly aging population on fixed incomes and a huge number of rentals in the village. If we do not continue to keep the cost of living affordable in our municipality, then we will become a ghost town.”
“We must focus more on expansion, growth, and development of our town,” Shafer continues. “We need more housing, we need business, and we need to strongly support the local small businesses that we have. Now that we have the capacity in the new wastewater treatment plant, we can diligently start working on this.”
Also during Monday’s meeting:
Councilman Shafer moved to accept a $17,000 bid from Cornett Custom Concrete and Home Rejuvenation to put in a sidewalk leading to the Dollar General along westbound U.S. 35.
“We’re hearing a lot of concern about people walking out there at night, with low visibility,” Shafer said.
Myers was reluctant, however, citing reductions in income tax revenue expected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent business closures.
“That’s our nest egg,” Myers said. “We don’t know what our income is going to be going forward. I just want to know where we’re at.”
“I guess my question is, when will we know?” Shafer responded. “Either way, we’ve got to start re-investing money in the town.”
The resulting vote was a tie, with Shafer, Utsinger and Smith voting for and Myers and council members Holly Robbins and Geoff Justice against. Mayor Jeff Hickey then broke the tie with his own ‘No’ vote, effectively striking down the measure.
Councilman Utsinger moved to spend $3,500 to wash and repaint the Town Hall. Myers also took issue with this expenditure.
“We talk about cutting the General Fund, but we just keep spending,” Myers said.
“What have we spent?” Utsinger asked. “Look at the town. What have we spent money on?”
The resulting vote on this issue was also a tie, with Mayor Hickey ultimately voting to approve the expenditure.
Council also debated whether to install security cameras and increased lighting in Smith Park, with cost again being the primary bone of contention. Councilman Shafer presented a quote of $6,350 to install security cameras and an additional $4,500 for lighting upgrades.
“If we get the cameras and end up having to prosecute people, that’s going to cost money,” Myers said. “I’d like to see us put up lights first. Cameras are expensive.”
“Cameras are just as important as lights,” Smith said. “If we’re going to go in that direction, I think we should do it all. Otherwise, let’s save ourselves some time and find something on this list that won’t cost us any money.”
Police Chief Tony Gasper agreed.
“I would love to be able to monitor the park from our department laptops and cell phones,” Gasper said. “We get a lot of complaints about drugs and vandalism during the summer, usually at night.”
Council ultimately voted to pursue lighting upgrades for a price not to exceed $5,000.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish