AMHERST TWP. — Roughly 1,000 property owners in Amherst, Elyria and Sheffield townships have seen their water and sewer bills skyrocket since July 1 when a rate increase imposed by the city of Lorain took effect.
Before that, those residents had been paying 150 percent of what customers within the city limits pay for those services. But in April, Lorain City Council unanimously approved increasing that figure to 200 percent.
Lorain Safety Service Director Robert Fowler said the average sewer bill for a Lorain resident is around $30 per month for sewer service and about $15 per month for water. Previously, residents in the townships with average usage would have paid $45 a month for sewer and another $22.50 for water. Those same residents with average sewer and water usage now have bills of $60 per month for sewer and $30 for water.
It’s a massive jump that targets people who have no say in Lorain city elections, said Amherst Township resident Christine Winrod, who is working to convince the Lorain County commissioners to intervene.
Winrod said she knows of people who have seen their bills jump by $100 a month. That’s not something that people on a budget can afford, she argued.
“A nickel here, a dime there, it all adds up. The price of gas, the price of groceries,” Winrod said. “It really is a shock to have a bill like this come in the mail.”
Amherst Township Trustee Neil Lynch said rate increases of that magnitude would have been political suicide for Lorain officials had they done something similar to city residents.
But Lorain Safety Service Director Robert Fowler said the rates for customers outside the city have been far too low for too long.
“The residents of Elyria, Sheffield and Amherst townships have been getting such a good deal for such a long time,” Fowler said. “The residents of the city of Lorain have been subsidizing our outside customers in stormwater and sanitary sewers for at least the last eight years.”
He said the city needs the additional money to pay for much-needed infrastructure improvements, including a $65 million tunnel project designed to prevent sewage overflows.
Fowler said he explained the reasoning for the increase during an appearance at an Amherst Township trustees meeting earlier this month.
County Commissioner Tom Williams said he thinks the city is way out of line.
“It’s not fair. These people are basically stuck. They have to pay it,” Williams said. “If 200 percent is what they’re paying, I think it’s robbery.”
Winrod said the increase to the 200 percent rate came in the wake of a rate hike in January that also affected customers within the city limits. The city also has planned additional increases in the coming years.
The impacted township residents don’t have a contract with the city, Fowler said, which means the city can legally charge what it wants.
Many of the city’s water and sewer customers in outlying areas have contracts that limit what the city can charge them, but Lynch, who also serves as Williams’ administrative assistant, fears the city will increase those rates as well.
“When those other contracts expire, they’re going for more,” he said.
A legal fight between the county and the city also is brewing.
“The city thinks it’s entitled to millions of dollars in back fees,” county Administrator Jim Cordes told the commissioners last week. “This is going to get tough fast.”
Fowler acknowledged that the city is reviewing past usage fees but hasn’t come up with a final figure on what the county may owe.
“The appropriate level of payments may not have been remitted to the city by the county,” he said.
Cordes said he still needs to investigate before he knows what fees the city contends the county hasn’t been paying.
Voicing their opposition
Amherst Township resident Christine Winrod said she and other residents are gathering signatures from those affected by increases to present to the commissioners at their Sept. 12 meeting, scheduled to begin
9:30 a.m. on the fourth floor of the Lorain County Administration Building.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.