Spradlin: Proposed hike ‘astronomical’
By Dean Shipley
Is a possible $12-per-month increase in a water bill astronomical?
Mt. Sterling councilwoman Diane Spradlin thought so and said as much Monday evening at the village council meeting. She and the other five council members heard a presentation by Kevin Wood, vice-president of M-E Companies of Westerville, Ohio regarding plans for the proposed new water plant. Wood also presented some figures compiled by Wayne Cannon, who works with small municipalities on the funding aspect of installing new water plant projects. The recommended $12 hike in basic water rate came as part of the presentation for the new water plant.
Village administrator Joe Johnson said the current plant, whose building dates to 1895, needs an estimated $1.7 million in improvements to comply with EPA regulations. Even with recommended changes, new EPA regulations for well fields make Mt. Sterling’s non-compliant. A railroad passing through the village runs well within the 300-foot radius EPA now requires to be around the well heads. The village needs to drill new wells.
The study recommends a new membrane plant with filtration and aeration. It is the most efficient at removing iron from the water “up front,” which complies with EPA regulations on the metal. Estimated cost, plus contingencies and build outs adds up to $5.53 million.
Wood said because Mt. Sterling currently has very little debt remaining on its wastewater treatment plant it’s in “a better place” and no adjustment in sewer rates is anticipated.
On the water side, Wood said the village has “large debts coming off in two to three years.”
With low outstanding debt, the village could potentially borrow 100 percent needed for the plant, which would be paid back over 20 years. During that time, it is expected the village will grow and thus bring online more water-using customers and increase revenue.
Wood said a proposed $12 increase in water rates, suggested to be put into effect January 2013, would accomplish a number of things for the village in the process. By collecting monies in the design phase, the village could build a “pot” of money so it would not have to borrow the entire 100 percent of the cost of the plant. The rate increase would also assure potential lenders sufficient revenue is coming in to pay back the loan. It would also assure grantors the village residents “are paying their fair share,” Wood said.
“It seems prudent to set money aside,” Wood said. “Then the village wouldn’t have to borrow as much.
With the increase also comes raise the village’s rates high enough to qualify for grants from Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Along with that increase was a proposed five-dollar bump for 2014.
The council adopted the legislation to allow the new water plant to move forward into the design phase. The vote was 5-1 with Spradlin voting no.
Johnson said the plant has to be large enough to meet water needs 20-25 years into the future.
Wood said having the rate increase will portray the village in a positive position when their application for funding comes up against another municipality. The grant process is competitive and having the increase in place could be the check mark the village needs to have a grant approved.
With the approval, it authorizes the mayor to enter into agreements with M-E companies and the well field contractor for $941,600 for the design phase.
The well field will need to produce a volume of 1,000 gallon/minute, which necessitate sinking up to four wells.
The entire plan also calls for rehabilitation of the village’s two water tanks.
In other business, administrator Johnson recommended some personnel changes at the water plant due to an employee resignation. Johnson recommended full-time hire for Dennis Case, who has been working part time for the village. Johnson would move Case into the position vacated by Chris Beavers, who resigned to take a job with the Madison County Engineer’s office.
Beavers was hired at 20 hours a week on a contract basis to conduct the necessary tests as required by EPA. His rate would be $13/hour and he would work 4-8 a.m. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Johnson said he would work in that capacity until Case could obtain his Class 1 plant operator license.
Council member Spradlin asked why the village couldn’t hire already licensed persons “so we don’t have to enter into to unusual employee agreement.” She said she had a problem with employees “not being supervised by anybody.”
Johnson said to hire a class 2 operator would cost around $50,000 per year and the village couldn’t afford it. He also said when Beavers was hired, he came in uneducated about water plant operation. But he studied and passed the tests and expected the same of Case, who is a veteran.
Sheriff’s Deputy Jack Dill said two persons of interest have been “taken off the street” and the in-car and bicycle thefts have stopped.
Lowell Anderson said some $7,000 has been charged by the village to residences which were in need of nuisance abatement. Anderson said he and council member Timmons have toured the village and noticed some improvements.
The committee is looking into an apparent problem of unauthorized burning of materials.