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Ironton City Council to hear water meter ordinance

A proposed citywide water meter replacement project will be on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the Ironton City Council.

Council will hear the first reading of an ordinance that would award an approximately $1.1 million bid to Southern Ohio Trenching for construction of the project.

The city received an approximately $1.4 million loan from the Ohio EPA for the project. The $1.4 million would be the total amount for the project. Thirty percent of the loan is forgivable, while the other 70 percent would be paid back with the city’s three metered fees: water, sewer and stormwater. It would be paid back over the next 30 years with 2 percent interest.

“The city is looking into pretty much alternative (ways to pay back the loan),” Finance Director Kristen Martin said. “(The project) should increase revenue enough to make the repayment.”

“In theory” the project will pay for itself, Martin said. E.L. Robinson, the city’s contracted engineering firm, is in the midst of a feasibility study to determine if the city would need to raise rates in order to pay for the project, she said.

“Even if they recommend that we raise the rates, it can’t be done without a vote of council,” Martin said.

In August, the Ironton City Council narrowly passed an ordinance authorizing Mayor Rich Blankenship to begin the loan process on the project. Four council members — Kevin Waldo, Chuck O’Leary, Mike Lutz and Frank Murphy — voted for the ordinance. Three members — Beth Rist, Bob Cleary and Dave Frazer — voted against the ordinance.

Reached Tuesday, Cleary said his thoughts about the project have not changed. While he said he would support putting the new meters in some outlying and difficult-to-reach areas of the city as a trial, he’s not convinced the city should spend money to replace all the meters.

“They haven’t proved to me that it won’t increase the water bill,” Cleary said.

The water department’s current use of five workers with handheld devices checking meters works, he said.

“I’m just against anything that will raise the water bill.” The administration feels like it will save the city money and there’s no evidence of that,” Cleary said.

At previous council meetings Blankenship has argued that the new meters will increase revenue with a more accurate reading of customer’s water usage.

Cleary argued that the new readings could also decrease revenue if the current meters are overestimating water usages.

“I’m not sold on the meter project at all except that I would love to try them out on the difficult to reach areas of Ironton as a scaled-down project and see how it works,” he said. “It may work.”

Frazer said he is concerned the city is taking on too much debt.

“I’m leaning towards no because I don’t know if there’s money,” Frazer said. He pointed out that at a recent finance committee meeting Blankenship said Martin had expressed concern that the funds may not be able to handle the repayment.

“We just can’t get keep getting more and more in debt,” he said. “My dad taught me if you don’t have it, wait until you save up and then pay for it.”

Blankenship has been a proponent of the project, arguing that the automated meters would free up city workers to fix water leaks in the city.

The mayor said he plans to show council how workers are currently reading the meters. The city is “in the dark ages” as far as meter reading is concerned, he said.

Water Superintendent Mark White has also supported the project, saying the automated meters would cut the manpower needed to read the meters. With the new system it would take one worker one or two days to read the meters, rather than five workers at least a week, he has said.

The Ironton City Council will also:

• Hear the first reading of an ordinance amending a city ordinance entitled “Prohibiting Standing or Parking Places.” The ordinance currently prohibits drivers from parking on a sidewalk or state tree lawn with the exception of bicycles.

The ordinance would add the following exception: A vehicle parked on a driveway of impervious or semi-impervious surface that is less than half the vehicle width or length projects over the sidewalk shall be permitted if an alternate route around the obstructing vehicle exists of the same type material as the existing sidewalk, meets ADA standards for accessible design for a single wheelchair access and does not occupy any part of the established street used for vehicle traffic or parking.

• Hear the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the reimbursement to Phyllis and Bill Spanner for the cost of removing trees from the city’s right of way. In 2006, the city sent a letter to the Spanners, of Ora Richey Road, asking them to remove 14 trees for the purpose of a widening project that did not take place. The ordinance would authorize the reimbursement of $3,000 to the Spanners. Councilman Chuck O’Leary recommended the reimbursement at finance committee meeting recently.

“If it was on our right of way, we should have paid for it,” he said.

Though not on the finance committee, Councilwoman Beth Rist agreed, saying that giving the money back was the fair thing to do because the Spanners had complied with the city’s request.

• Hear the first reading of an ordinance amending the city’s annual operating budget.

• Hear the third reading of an ordinance conveying a piece of property to the State of Ohio.

• A resolution authorizing the acceptance of conveyance of the Splash Park from Friends of Ironton to the city.

The Ironton City Council will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Ironton City Center.