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Published: Tuesday, 8/5/2008

Delta council again rejects water rate hike

BY ANGIE SCHMITT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DELTA - A split council voted yesterday against a proposal to increase water rates in order to keep the village's two-year-old water plant financially solvent.

Council members Rose Butz, Lynn Frank, Mike Wolford, and Marcy LeFevre voted in favor of a water rate increase, while Keith Lantz and Randy Jackson voted against it. The proposal was immediately reintroduced and council unanimously voted yes on the first reading. A second reading is scheduled for Aug. 18.

A 5-1 majority was needed for passage because it had been presented as "emergency" legislation, meaning it would have taken effect immediately.

The proposal would have increased a typical Delta water bill by 50 percent. Without it, village officials say they soon will have to dip into Delta's general funds to stave off bankruptcy at Delta's $6.4 million plant, which treats water using microfiltration and reverse osmosis.

Current revenue is insufficient to pay $360,000 in annual debt service and other costs, Mayor Dan Miller said.

The plant operated at a $250,000 deficit last year and the balance in the water fund has dwindled to about $70,000, he said.

"The water plant [fund] will probably hit zero by the summer of next year," Village Administrator Derek Allen said. "We would have difficulty meeting next June's payments to the state."

About 75 community members turned out for the meeting, many of whom expressed support for the rate hike.

"I don't want to see Delta go into financial emergency," said Jeff Mazurowski, 38. "If nothing gets done I'm going to be mad. I don't want to go into financial emergency and I think a lot of other people feel the same way."

Other residents asked whether the issue would lead to cuts at the village police department, the village's biggest budget item.

"My intention is not to cut the police department," Mr. Miller said. "We'll cut other services if we have to."

An identical rate increase proposal was rejected by a 3-3 vote of council last month.

Councilmen Lantz, Jackson, and Wolford voted against the proposal. Councilmen Butz, LeFevre, and Frank voted in favor.

Mr. Lantz said he voted against the legislation because the water department has not demonstrated fiscal accountability.

Ms. Butz, who has opposed water rate increases in the past, said council had little choice.

Village officials said the rate hike is the only viable option.

"We looked at closing the water plant and buying our water, we looked at different options," Mr. Allen said. "What happens if we have to default on a loan we just borrowed? It just doesn't make a lot of sense to close a water plant that's working perfectly well."

The water treatment plant has long been a source of controversy in the village.

A group of residents launched a referendum to overturn an 8.7 percent water rate increase approved by council in 2004. The effort was ultimately struck down in Fulton County Common Pleas Court.

The water plant was also blamed for the unseating of two incumbent councilmen in 2005.

Financed over 30 years at 4.1 percent, interest payments on the plant will cost the community an additional $4 million, over its $6.4 million cost.

Contact Angie Schmitt at:

aschmitt@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.



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