Akron City Council Monday hammered out a deal on proposed sewer rate hikes which slightly reduces the expected 35 percent rate increase at the first of the year and creates a discount program for low-income residents.
After taking time to explore all funding options to pay for an EPA-mandated $500 million upgrade to the city’s combined sewer system – including holding a special public hearing on the matter and pushing back winter recess to vote on the legislation to raise rates – Council Monday night passed an amended ordinance which raises sewer service charges by 25 percent in January and creates a discount program for residents found eligible for an existing state-run utility assistance program.
The rate increases under the amended ordinance will still be implemented over a four-year period to raise $40 million toward the estimated $60 million it will cost to complete the first phase of repairs. After the initial increase rates will rise 20 percent, 20 percent and nine percent each year through 2013, respectively. The original ordinance called for a 35 percent increase at the first of the year, 15 percent in 2011, 15 percent in 2012 and 9 percent in 2013.
To lessen the impact on low-income customers, Council also approved a plan to offer a 25 percent discount on the increased rates to residents eligible for HEAP – the state’s Home Energy Assistance Program which already assists residents with gas and electric bills.
Council President Marco Sommerville said while the issue before Council was difficult, and very few feasible options were available to address the rate increases and their impacts on residents, he is satisfied that Council settled the matter in this way before the year’s end.
Sommerville, who said he had never before voted in favor of a sewer rate increase but reluctantly voted for the ordinance before Council which passed 9-2 (At Large Councilman John Conti did not vote and Ward 8 Councilman Raymond W. Cox III was absent), said the only other option would have been a tax increase. However, the city would need state approval to raise taxes and the process is a long one. Doing nothing, he said could end up costing the city more in fines from the EPA.
“The only real option was raising rates,” said Sommerville (W-3). “However, I’m happy there will be some relief for people who would be impacted more than others, and we’ll also work with people who can’t pay.”
“We did what we had to do and we can move forward.”
To participate in the sewer discount program, customers found eligible for HEAP may provide the water department with HEAP acceptance letters either by fax to (330) 375-2308 or in person at to 146 S. High St. Room 211. Residents with questions about the program may call the department’s customer service line at (330) 375-2554.
Call Akron-Summit Community Action at (330) 376-7730 or download an application online at www.energyhelp.ohio.gov.