Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Water-sewer rate increases necessary, officials say

Monday March 23, 2015 1:12 PM

Water and sewer rates in Johnston might be increased in 2016 to offset a predicted deficit village officials said during a council meeting Tuesday, March 17.

To avoid a deficit in the 2016 water and sewer operating budget, the village will need to increase water and sewer rates by at least 3 percent next year, officials said. Increases would also be likely in future years.

Village council members did not vote on any measures, but they did listen to three potential five-year plans.

Jack Liggett, village service director, said Johnstown should have raised rates a couple of years ago, but now the need for the increase is more pressing.

The first plan would involve a 4-percent increase starting in July of 2015, a 3.5-percent increase in 2016, 5 percent in 2017 and no increases in 2018 and 2019.

The second plan would be for a 3-percent increase each year for five years.

The last plan was for 3 percent in 2015, 5 percent for 2016 and 2017, and no increases in 2018 and 2019.

If the average family uses 4,000 gallons of water each month and is currently paying $60 for water and sewer service, then the family would see a $1.80 increase, if a 3-percent increase is approved.

Mayor Sean Staneart said he favored doing a one-year plan instead of a five-year plan.

"Looking at it from a (public relations) standpoint, I hate asking for what we might not need," he said.

Village Manager Jim Lenner, said the rate needs to be raised enough to meet expenses, however it is difficult to know what the village's finances might look like in 2019.

Finance Director Dana Steffan, who put together the five-year plans agreed officials needed to do what's best for the village.

Councilmembers asked Steffan to present new shorter-term plans at a future council meeting.

"Options such as a certain percentage increase for one year only might be presented," Steffan said.

"Then we would re-evaluate the revenue and expenses situation to see if another increase would be necessary."

Road, bridge projects

At the end of the village manager's report, council was given three options to repair Concord Road, Jersey Street and build a pedestrian bridge near Raccoon Creek.

"I field calls everyday from people asking which -- Jersey or Concord -- will be fixed," Liggett said.

"I don't have any answers to tell them," he said.

The road repairs were tabled for later discussion whereas a decision on the pedestrian bridge needs to be given to the Ohio Department of Transportation no later than April 3.

The Raccoon Creek Pedestrian Bridge would consist of a bridge and trail construction along U.S. Route 62 from Bigalow Drive to Westgate Drive.

The Raccoon Creek pedestrian bridge would cost the village $380,600 and would partly be funded through an ODOT grant of $460,000.

The village has already invested $10,000 in engineering costs on the project over the years and another $10,000 to buy private property from an individual.

The village engineer estimated the project cost at $609,000 versus the $840,600 total ODOT estimated at the beginning of March.

ODOT presented the village with a sealed estimate, only stating the cost and not the specifics, which raised concerns, village officials said.

"It's really difficult to write a check for a project that we don't know exactly why the costs are so high," Lenner said.

He said if the costs and construction bids turn out to be lower than the estimate from ODOT, then the village will be issued a refund.

The Raccoon Creek Pedestrian Bridge grant from ODOT was originally approved in 2008, but never acted upon, according to Lenner.

He said he is going to ask ODOT if it can push the project back for one more year.

At the meeting, council members tried to think of ways to fund the bridge project.

The Capital Improvement Fund does not have enough money to cover it and if they used the money from the estate tax fund, then that will lower the village's bond rating and affect its ability to handle a potential crisis.

The estate tax fund has $750,000 in it and the council discussed renaming the fund the "budget stabilization fund" to be a more appropriate name.

At the meeting, the council members voted 5-2 against the bridge, primarily stating they did not have enough information about financial numbers such as the exact amount in the Capital Improvement Fund.

Council scheduled a special meeting to further discuss the matter at 7:30 a.m. April 1, at 599 South Main St.

Steffan said she is preparing "a detailed analysis with various options to present at the April 1 meeting and will include finite numbers."