Residents, businesses may see #036;14.55 fee nixed

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

To borrow from the musical “The Wizard of Oz,” ding, dong, the storm water fee might soon be dead.

In councilman Leo Johnson’s opinion, $14.55 per month is just too much for residents and businesses to be paying into the stormwater utility fund.

The councilman put forth a new plan during a Thursday meeting of the Ironton Finance Committee, one that could translate to savings for many residents.

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Johnson wants to 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. That would equal 2.89 percent of an average Irontonian’s income, compared to a 2.5 percent minimum mandated by the EPA.

Johnson 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 current set-up would generate $1,275,278 per year, with residents paying $14.55 per month on their home and businesses paying the same amount per 3,000 square-feet of impermeable land that they own.

As it is laid out, the new plan attempts to spend less money, charge homeowners and businesses less and hunt for some grant funding.

Total revenue requirements of the current stormwater budget is $797,115 for the rest of 2006, then $1.04 million in 2007. That budget would include six new hires in the first year to the tune of $313,405 in the first year. $150,000 would be used every year until 2026 for existing storm facilities like drains.

Around $320,000 would be used to purchase new equipment. Councilman Bob Cleary, who owns a tool rental business, said that at least one of the price tags, $50,000 for a pull-behind wood chipper, seemed high.

“That must be the Cadillac of wood chippers,” Cleary said. “Is everything we’re getting a Cadillac? I mean, it’d be nice to get brand new equipment, but in this town we’ve hardly ever bought anything brand new.”

Johnson thought that the city could possibly save money by looking at other equipment that may be cheaper. But more importantly, he said he is also pursuing the possibility of receiving grant funding for the city, which he estimated could range between $200,000 to $300,000.

No specific grant funding has been secured, but Johnson said that this plan, which asked even more of Irontonians than the EPA requires, would have to be sufficient.

“If we can’t get those grant monies, we’ve got to live within our budget,” Johnson said. “We can’t do it any more. It would be like me saying ‘I don’t have enough money to live off of, I’m going to go get some more.’”

In Johnson’s plan, $80,100 would be spent on personnel, with only three new people being hired, he would also spend $80,000 for capital expenditures, which would increase to $516,000 in the next year, though Johnson said he hoped to offset that with grant funding.

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.

He admits that while many will save money under his plan, a few business and homeowners may actually end up paying more.

“There’s going to be some pain involved in this no matter what, and I don’t want there to be,” Johnsons said. “But this was the best alternative I could come up with pain-wise.”

After some discussion the committee decided that a flat fee of $10 per month should be charged to vacant properties.

The council members were quick to approve the plan, which they viewed as a way to bail out business, some of which could have paid tens of thousands annually.

“The first thing that people are going to say is ‘Oh no, the sewer rates are going up,’ but they’ve got to understand that $14.55 is going to be gone,” Councilman Chuck O’Leary said.

“This is a win. For homeowners who can’t afford the rates, it’s a win,” said finance committee chair Bob Cleary. “For businesses that can’t afford them, this is a win.”