Stormy waters settle as Steubenville council approves final measures for utility rates

Steubenville City Council has approved final measures for its water and sewer rate increases.

Steubenville City Council has approved final measures for its water and sewer rate increases.

The utility rate increases were slightly changed as to what funds will be paid first. The hope is that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency sees the plan as a better investment for the city.

After weeks of recent tension among council and Steubenville city administrators, there was palpable relief Tuesday night as council set forth the final rate plan. That's because council believes they have found a method that will appease the demands of EPA and make lenders more comfortable with funding.

That change is first directing more funds toward the city's sewer projects, which regulators say are in need of more immediate attention.

Councilman Willie Paul thanked Finance Director Dave Lewis for his expertise and then thanked Councilwoman Kimberly Hahn for overtime work to find a plan that will better appeal to Ohio EPA.

"Still working on her phone to get this ironed out. And -- thank you, it's all her,” Paul said.

Hahn explained that administrative and regulator advice that the sewer fund was in dire need of attention was finally acknowledged.

"The two concerns that we've been trying to address over and over again are the demands of the Ohio EPA, both on our sewer system and our water system, critical repairs that must be made immediately, or at least in process immediately and balanced (against) the financial challenges that we face in Steubenville,” she said.

On the bill changes for a customer, Steubenville residents won't notice much when it comes to paying. It's simply that council is directing the administration to pay down sewer projects first.

"We were looking at the numbers in the sewer fund and it was coming up short. So, we made one major adjustment, which we proposed and passed tonight: $1 less in each infrastructure charge so that the water infrastructure fund and the new sewer infrastructure fund will begin at $6 instead of $7, but increase a dollar a year."

Those allocations will go directly to the sewer fund. The change raises confidence that Ohio EPA will approve the rate structure plan on Nov. 1.

For Steubenville residents, here's what you need to know:

Expected to take effect Nov. 1, the base combined utility bill of water, sewer and refuse will go from $68.82 to $85.60, an increase of nearly $17. Then in October 2019, the next hike: it will be $89.23 in year two, $93.48 in year three, $97.80 for year four and three percent annual increases every October.

These changes have to be approved by Ohio EPA in November, but council is confident this will afford them the starting point to get further outside funding like grants and loans to start replacing its underground infrastructure.

Business and multi-generation households interested in a water rate breakdown by usage, the rate structure is as follows:

Year one: First 1,000 gallons is $18.98; each additional 1k is $13.23. Year two: First 1k gal. is $19.56; each additional 1k is $13.63; Year three: $20.15; $14.04; Year four: $20.75; $14.46; Year five: $21.37; $14.89.

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