CSO idea gets mixed reviews

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

The city council is looking to change the way residents pay for the stormwater program, and it’s a plan that seems to be getting the thumbs up from local businesses and the state Environmental Protection Agency.

But city engineer Phil Biggs has some concerns about the plan, which he believes might provoke federal EPA officials who already have their eyes on the city.

The city finance committee recently recommended a plan that would eliminate the current $14.55 fee and introduce a $2 rate increase per 1,000 gallons of water used, which would make the rate $7 for an average user. That would equal 2.89 percent of an average Irontonian’s income, compared to a 2.5 percent minimum mandated by the EPA.

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Councilman Leo Johnson has said that an average Ironton homeowner uses between 4,000 and 5,000 gallons of water and would save between $6.55 and $4.55 under his plan.

The $2 increase for 1,000 gallons could generate $588,000 for the fee, which Johnson said would be enough to eliminate the current $14.55 fee.

While that might be a help for homeowners, it might just be a saving grace for some local businesses.

Under the current plan, businesses are charged $14.55 for every 3,000 square feet of impermeable land on their property.

Jeff Dillow owns Spare Time Recreation in Ironton. For Dillow, that amounted to around $450 in extra fees every month.

“It’s just like another mortgage payment, the way our economy is and with declining business anyway,” Dillow said. “Throw another $450 a month payment that you’re not used to, the only way you can recover it is to raise your prices, and when you do that, people don’t like that, so then your business is going to drop even more.”

However, under Johnson’s plan, Dillow could save hundreds. His busiest month was March, and he estimates he used around 25,000 gallons of water — meaning he would, at most, be spending an additional $50 a month on the stormwater fund.

“That’ll work a lot better for me,” Dillow said. “I’m well satisfied with the way that’s going to work out. That’ll fit my budget a lot better than the other, believe me. I’ll definitely support it.”

The EPA has required the creation of the fee and has given several warnings to the city about needing a plan to meet its nine minimum standards.

EPA district representative Steve Wells has seen the revised plan and raised only slight objections to it. He said that the EPA doesn’t mandate how a city goes about paying for their stormwater plan, only that they must.

“We only review whether the city is adequately funding the (Combined Sewer Overflow) long-term control plan, implementation, operation and maintenance of it’s treatment system and collection system,” Wells said. “How the city funds these is up to the city.”

Wells said that the agency did have some concern that the new plan wouldn’t encourage businesses to redirect stormwater runoff away from the combined sewer overflow. Wells said they had been assured that the city would encouraged business owners to do just that.

While engineer Biggs doesn’t have much of a problem with the way they fund the plan either, he said he’s not comfortable with some of the cuts that have been made to the budget, including hiring three employees instead of six, and reducing the money spent on equipment.

“There’s not enough people there to do the things that need to be done,” Biggs said. “There were two supervisory people who were called for in that program as well, and none of that’s in there.”

Some members of the city council said that they thought too much money was budgeted for some pieces of equipment, but Biggs said that he had set those prices by what the equipment would cost used.

The cuts could be poorly timed as Biggs said federal EPA officials will meet with city employees on April 19 to discuss a compliance schedule with the city that includes penalties with non-compliance.

“The way I understand it, they’re unhappy with the fact that we aren’t further along than we are and that the state’s been pretty lenient with us,” Biggs said. “As of today’s date, the only thing that we’ve done other than getting started on the long-term control plan with the consultants is that we bought a street sweeper. Other than that we haven’t done anything.”

Biggs, who was cut to working two days a week by the last budget, said he wasn’t invited to the city finance meeting where the plan had been discussed, nor was he invited to council’s next meeting on April 13 when the changes will likely be discussed.