LORAIN — No one likes to pay higher bills, but everyone likes clean water and sewers that don’t overflow.
It takes one to get the other two, Mayor Chase Ritenauer told City Council members Monday before they unanimously rescinded an increase for sewer and sanitary sewer water — water for laundry, showers and toilets — for roughly 1,000 residents in Amherst, Elyria and Sheffield townships.
The 70 percent hike, approved May 6 by Council members, was rescinded in favor of a $10.94 monthly operations and maintenance fee beginning in January. The fee runs through the end of 2017 and increases 5 percent annually.
Ritenauer called the fee a “more incremental, more balanced approach” to addressing sewer overflow problems, which include a $65 million underground tunnel project the increase was to help fund. Without the upgrade, Lorain could violate the federal Clean Water Act and face fines from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Ritenauer said providing service to the townships adds four to six times the flow of water into Lorain when it rains.
“Some of the problems facing us collectively are ones that are going to take many years and are going to take a shared burden by all who use our system to address,” he said. “Today, we’ve got more of a gradual approach to get to the end goal.”
The hike, from 130 percent to 200 percent of what Lorain customers pay, outraged some township customers. Republican County Commissioner Tom Williams, who championed their cause, previously called the increase “robbery.” Williams was accused of political grandstanding by the Democratic Ritenauer and Council members Eddie Edwards, D-5th Ward, and Brian Gates, D-1st Ward.
Gates said Williams hindered, rather than helped, a compromise.
“We face the sad reality in Lorain of having one of our county commissioners who’s actively trying to harm the largest city in this county,” Gates said of Williams, who didn’t return calls Monday night.
After the increase, township residents with average usage saw their monthly sewer bills increase from about $45 to $60 and their monthly water bills increase from about $22.50 to $30, according to Safety/Service Director Robert Fowler.
That works out to an average total annual increases of about $270, about 106 percent more than the $131 annual cost in the first year of the fees. Nonetheless, Amherst Township resident Lynda Ashley, a vocal critic of the hike, wasn’t satisfied. Ashley said the higher rates township residents pay are supposed to be spent on maintenance and operations. Township residents also pay a 150 percent higher rate than Lorain residents for debt payments on sewer projects. That figure didn’t increase along with the sewer and water rate hikes.
Ashley, who didn’t attend the Council meeting, said township residents were “blindsided” by the change. She noted the rescinding and fee installation wasn’t on the Council agenda and came after a 1-hour, 45-minute closed-door session.
Ashley said she has requested in writing a meeting involving Amherst Township residents, Council members and Ritenauer. Amherst Township residents comprise about 90 percent of the customers facing the fee. Ashley said the fee should be rescinded and township residents refunded for the extra payments made since the hike.
“We’re far from done fighting this,” she said. “It’s far from over.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or email@example.com.