WILMINGTON — Wilmington City Council held a special meeting Monday night to discuss the ongoing issue of water rates.
While no decision was made at the meeting after the matter has been discussed in several Water Committee meetings, Councilman Mark McKay said he wants action to be taken no later than the the Sept. 4 council meeting, with several council members in agreement.
Wilmington Mayor Randy Riley opened the meeting by saying the the recommendations dictated by the Ohio Rural Community Assistance Program’s water rate analysis should be followed immediately.
RCAP’s analysis states that the city should impose a $10 per customer, per month service charge — also referred to as a tap fee — in order to meet debt and service coverage. That would generate almost $627,000.
Water Department Manager Jerry Rowlands said that the Water Department needs $600,000 simply to break even with debt coverage, not counting repairs, he added.
City Treasurer Paul Fear stood before council to present his views, saying that, as the main provider for a single-income household, a $10 tap fee would be too high of a cost, raising the amount he pays for water each month by 60 percent.
Fear said he had recently spent several thousand dollars in bathroom renovations in order to reduce water usage, but even with those renovations, the cost would still be too high for him to handle.
“We’ve known about it,” Fear said, noting that the issue is not a new one, and preventative measures should have been taken in previous years to prevent the current problem from occurring.
Councilman Joe Spicer was of a similar mindset, saying he had followed the issue even before he became a councilman and nothing was done.
“I’m just really, really frustrated,” he said.
Several different ideas were discussed, including taking money from the sewer fund’s surplus — figured to be in the neighborhood of $3 million, according to Fear — as well as instating a $5 tap fee with a percentage monthly rate increase over time.
“We have to do something different,” said Councilman Loren Stuckert, advising that both the sewer and water funds be looked at comprehensively, rather than seeing them as two separate entities.
“It’s not like we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Stuckert said. “They’re both Paul.”
“We do need to start getting money immediately,” Councilwoman Marian Miller said, “but we need to not overcompensate.”
While opinions varied, general consensus was that a $5 tap fee would not generate adequate funds, but that a $5 tap fee plus a monthly usage rate might.
Riley said the $5 fee and a possible rate increase would still not be enough, and that council should also consider that the RCAP recommendation of a $10 fee was just the beginning. He said its recommendation included raising the tap fee by $5 one year later, and another $5 the year after that. In 2017, the RCAP recommendation says to institute a 2.5-percent increase each year in 2017.
The water committee will meet at a later date to discuss the issue further.
David Wright can be reached at 937-382-2574 ext. 2514 or on Twitter @DavidWright528.