At a recent City Council meeting a resolution was introduced by the Finance Department to raise the sanitary sewer rates. Some cities do this on an annual basis. In Willoughby we’ve chosen to do this on an as-needed basis; approximately every three years. The last rate increase was put into effect in 2011.
Neither the council members nor I are eager to raise rates of any kind and only do so when we’re convinced there is no other alternative. Unfortunately, that is the case in regards to the sanitary sewer fee.
From an operational standpoint, we have reduced staff and maintain the staff at minimums to operate our facilities. We also continually work to save on energy costs. However, additional costs and capital projects are now being required by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA). The purpose of the improvements is to lessen the amount of bypasses directly to Lake Erie.
When large rainfalls occur, water from the storm sewers inevitably makes its way into the sanitary sewers. This sometimes threatens to overwhelm sewage treatment facilities. At these times a “switch” is thrown and sewage that would normally go through the treatment process is re-routed directly into the lake. Obviously this is a huge problem from an environmental standpoint.
Due to the aging infrastructure in Northeast Ohio this typically happens several times per year. The OEPA is mandating that cities make improvements to their systems to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, the number of these bypasses. As a result, Willoughby’s capital expenditures in the next 3 to 4 years are expected to increase by more than $10 million dollars.
While some of these costs will be shared with the City of Eastlake, these expenditures will be in addition to what we would normally spend on our own infrastructure improvements. These will likely cost an additional several million dollars. Given all of these additional costs, Council accepted the Finance Department’s recommendation and passed a sewer rate increase of about 23%.
While, percentage-wise, this seems like a large increase, please keep in mind that it has been three years since we last raised rates and are only doing so because of all of the extra costs being mandated by the Ohio EPA. Also, our sewer rates, even with the increase, still compare favorably to state-wide averages. We will continue to work to save costs wherever possible while maintaining a sewer system that works to the benefit of all of us.
On a lighter note, I hope to see many of you as the Holiday Season kicks off in Willoughby. Please check our web site at www.willoughbyohio.com and “like us” on Facebook for information on holiday activities around the city.
Have a great month.