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Wauseon water, sewer rate increase pushed to November

WAUSEON - Wauseon City Council has postponed until November most of a water and sewer rate increase that had been scheduled for April 1, and a city official said further increases planned for next year through 2014 may not be needed at all.

But the city is moving ahead with plans to build an equalization basin and an additional storage tank at its sewage treatment plant despite a critic's insistence that the work ultimately will be a waste of money, and assessments for that project's cost will begin next month as planned.

Dennis Richardson, Wauseon's public service director, said a construction contract is likely to be awarded by month's end for the sewer-plant project.

A $2.733 million proposal from Mosser Construction of Fremont was the lowest of five bids the city received for the project, and as city council previously authorized administrators to accept the lowest and most responsible bid, no further legislative action is needed to award the contract, Mr. Richardson said.

Yet even there, a discount has arisen: Jon Schamp, the city's finance director, said last week that the monthly debt service for the treatment-plant construction will cost a typical city utilities customer $9.26 per month, not the $14.42 he had previously quoted.

The typical customer is defined as a residential household that uses about 700 cubic feet of water.

Before an initial rate increase in November, such a customer paid $43.37 in combined water and sewer charges, which increased to $54.90.

The increase scheduled for April 1 would have hiked that to $75.81, but instead only it will go up to $64.16.

Presenting a report to council from its utilities committee, councilman Karen Krumm said the balance of the increase could be postponed for six months because the city utilities fund "is kind of stable as it stands right now."

Waiting until November gets consumers through "the major summer watering season" and then council can review the fund's status again to see if the increase is needed even then, she said.

The schedule of rate increases that council approved last fall called for the typical residential customer's bill to rise further, to $83.62, $90.11, $97.38, and $105.43 on April 1 of 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

But Mr. Schamp said he believes the water fund may be kept balanced with "just one more" increase - the one now scheduled for November.

"I've never felt that all six of the voted increases would be necessary," he said last week.

The city administration recommended the increases to council last year, the finance director said, to protect against a worst-case scenario in which city water consumption continued to decline while operating costs kept rising.

Wauseon faces a July, 2011, deadline to complete the sewer-plant construction as part of an agreement with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to reduce to no more than four times per year the occasions when heavy rain overwhelms the plant and forces raw sewage to bypass treatment.

The city had originally pledged to completely separate its sanitary sewers and storm drains by last year, but negotiated the new plan after it became clear that it could not afford the construction necessary to comply.

Tim Dennis, the owner of several hundred rental housing units in Wauseon and a vocal critic of the sewer-plant project, once again urged city leaders to seek a time extension from Ohio EPA that would allow Wauseon to continue with the sewer separations over a longer period.

"The pond, to me and so many other people, seems like such a waste of funds, but we can't afford separation right now," Mr. Dennis said.

"If EPA says they're open to look at it again, what's the harm?"

But while councilman Doug Shaw agreed that "separation is ultimately what's going to happen," completing that program would cost the city's sewer users $15 million, and letters from Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski to both the city and Mr. Dennis said a time extension to do that would likely be no longer than five years.

The total cost for the planned sewer-plant work is expected to be about $5 million.

"Council has done the best we can with what we were dealt," Mr. Shaw said.

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