City council OKs water meter replacement project

Published 10:25 am Friday, June 10, 2011

Group votes 5-2 in favor of plan

A $1.4 million water meter replacement project for the City of Ironton was approved Thursday evening.

With a 5-2 vote, Ironton City Council passed an ordinance to award a construction bid to Southern Ohio Trenching for the project.

The city received a $1.4 million loan from the Ohio EPA for the project. Thirty percent of the loan is forgivable while the other 70 percent will be paid back through revenue collected from the city’s three metered fees: water, sewer and storm water. The debt will be paid back over the next 30 years with 2 percent interest.

Email newsletter signup

Two council members, Bob Cleary and Dave Frazer, voted against the ordinance.

Discussion on the project lasted about an hour.

Cleary told the council he supports the idea of the water meters but wants the city to consider having the water distribution workers install the meters instead of bidding out the construction.

He said city workers from Ashland, Ky. are installing new meters there at the rate of about 100 per month until they reach 15,000.

Water distribution workers have argued that they have too much work to do as it is. The water department only has one water meter reader but each month five water distribution workers are pulled from their work fixing leaks and attending to other business to read meters, they have said.

With the new meters, workers will be able read them by driving by them at the speed limit rather than on foot.

Cleary said under his and several other past administrations, getting the work done and reading meters has not been a problem.

“We had five people work in that department and they read the meters nearly every month, all 5,000 or 4,700 or whatever in the matter of about five to eight days every month,” Cleary said. “Now all of a sudden we can’t do it. We’ve got water breaks.”

Mayor Rich Blankenship disagreed.

“I disagree with the ‘all of a sudden’,” Blankenship said. “You went all the way back 20 years ago. Now we’ve got 20 year older (water) lines that are breaking.”

Patrick Leighty of E.L. Robinson Engineering said if the city decided not to contract with Southern Ohio Trenching and to do the construction itself, it may have to reapply for the loan. He believes that the Ohio EPA may not be giving out forgivable loans again next year he said.

“If (the city has to reapply for the loan), we may lose that principal forgiveness,” Leighty said.

Another area of debate about the project has been about the city’s ability to pay back the loan for the project. Blankenship said on numerous occasions and again Thursday that the project will not cause water rates to increase. The current meters are not giving accurate readings, but are under calculating water usage, he said.

“There’s just so many, many things that would be a pro for the city doing this,” Blankenship said. “(Water distribution workers) don’t have time to do the work now.

Will the water meter project mean an increase in water rates? That depends on who you ask.

Finance Director Kristen Martin told council that with the current revenue, the city could not afford to pay off the debt.

The loan repayment starts in 2013. E.L. Robinson did a study of the city’s ability to pay the loan.

“Patrick’s (Leighty of E.L. Robinson) assumption is that you would have to increase that water rate in 2012 to gain the revenue so it is in line with the repayment,” Martin said,

In theory though, she said, the project will generate enough of an increase in revenue to pay for itself.

When asked to clarify if additional revenue would come through increased water rates or through increased accuracy of water bills, Martin said the latter.

“The increased revenue comes from an accurate reading, in theory, but I can’t make people pay,” Martin said. “It’s a collection issue.”

Cleary said after the meeting he is concerned that despite an increase in revenue because of accurate meter readings, the water rate will be increased. He said the city increased revenue by building a new water tower but water rates increased anyway.

Blankenship again said after the meeting that the water meter project will not cause water rates to increase.

“This project will not raise the rates of utilities,” the mayor said. “I can’t say our utilities will not (ever) increase. That’s like saying gas (prices) won’t increase.”

Frazer declined to comment.

In other business, the Ironton City Council also:

• Heard the first reading of an ordinance authorizing Blankenship to execute an agreement with E.L. Robinson Engineering Co. regarding the Ironton Manhole Rehabilitation Project. The agreement would be for $30,000 for engineering design, $7,500 for bidding and negotiation, $69,000 for construction administration, and $263,000 for resident inspection for a total of $369,500

• Passed an ordinance providing for the issuance and sale of not to exceed $11,000 of sewer system revenue bonds for the purpose of improving the municipal sewer system

• Passed an ordinance amending a law about parking places

• Passed a resolution acknowledging and supporting the Ironton Port Authority to apply for Clean Ohio assistance fund grants.