Council to consider study on water and sewer rates

STEUBENVILLE – City Council is preparing to take a serious look at the city’s water and sewer rates.

But after a nearly two-hour finance committee meeting Tuesday to hear a general overview of what the Rural Community Assistance Program has to offer, council took no immediate action.

“I have asked RCAP to come in and look at our utility rates and determine the type of community we are. We have some citizens with fixed incomes who use less water and other residents with a high water usage,” explained City Manager Cathy Davison at the start of the meeting.

Davison said a contract with RCAP will cost the city $8,500.

“You have to have a fair and equitable rate structure. And there are benchmark tools to use to achieve that goal. You need a revenue stream that provides for a water system. A good rate structure must provide for financial sustainability of your water system. And you must determine if you want economic growth in your community,” Josh Eggleston, a field agent with Ohio RCAP told the council members.

He also advised council members they should consider a five-to-10-year rate plan that includes the annual inflationary impact.

According to the RCAP Internet website, the nonprofit private agency “provides consulting services to help rural communities address their drinking water and wastewater treatment needs. Each year, we serve well over 100 communities in Ohio and leverage millions of dollars for water and sewer projects. Our field agents assist communities with project development and capacity building.

“A data analysis of your water and sewer system is probably the most important part of the project. I will be trying to build a typical year’s budget for your utility systems in order to set a rate structure. We will probably use 2014 as your base year,” Eggleston noted.

“We will also be talking about asset management. Steubenville is no different than any other community. You need to look at a predictive and preventative maintenance program as opposed to a reacting maintenance philosophy. Compare your system to buying a new car. If all you do is change the oil every so often, you will get the minimum mileage out of the car. If you use preventative maintenance, maybe rebuild the engine, you will get more miles out of the car,” said Eggleston.

“You want to spend money on your water filtration plant to extend the life cycle of the facility. You should plan ahead on projects. Start putting money aside for future projects. And small minimum rate increases over time will help your customers out. Smaller increases are easier to stomach and it takes the politics out of the process,” remarked Eggleston.

He suggested a base charge should cover the cost of the water or sewer system.

“And a minimum usage charge should cover as much of the utility’s fixed cost as possible. You should look at a basic rate and a usage rate. And your rate consideration will determine economic development. There are a few communities in Ohio that don’t want large industry in their towns so they set their rates to basically stop that from happening,” related Eggleston.

“At the end of the day somebody has to pay. Everyone has a piece of the pie. And the need for revenue changes over time. You may want to look at gradual increases over a several year period to at least keep up with inflation. You have to take proactive actions. And you have to educate your community on the values of your utilities,” said Eggleston.

“At the end of the day you have to do something. If you don’t, the cliff will get higher for everyone,” concluded Eggleston.

During the council sunshine meeting, 4th Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs introduced a resolution declaring April as Minority Health Month.

And 6th Ward Councilman David Lalich asked for a finance committee meeting at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the employee table of organization passed last week and the amendment denying a municipal court employee pay raise.

Council also will meet in executive session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss contract negotiations with the police and firefighters’ unions. The police labor agreement expires in May, and the firefighters contract expires in December.