September 30, 2014

Elyria
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LORCO panel backs rate hikes

ELYRIA — The Lorain County Rural Wastewater District sewers have only been in for about a year, and the board already is thinking about raising rates by a third in three years.

LORCO’s finance committee recommended Thursday night that the board raise rates 10 percent a year for three years. The board plans to vote on the matter at its Nov. 8 meeting.

The proposal would increase minimum monthly sewer rates from the current $42 to $46.20 in 2013, $50.82 in 2014 and $55.90 in 2015.

The LORCO board also plans to raise tap-in fees by $1,000 a year for the next three years from the current $6,000 to $7,000 in 2013, $8,000 in 2014 and $9,000 in 2015.

The proposal upset former Eaton Township Trustee Del Roig and current Trustee Linda Morrison, who were the only residents attending the meeting.

Roig said he used to pay $28 a month five years ago for water from the Rural Lorain County Water Authority and he had no cost of operating his septic tank except for electricity to operate the aerator.

Now he says he pays $160 — $70 for his sewer bill, $20 for his assessment for the tap-in fee and $70 for his rural water bill, which also has gone up.

The problem, according to LORCO Board President Jim McConnell, is that the bottom fell out of the housing market and few companies are building houses.

LORCO Executive Director Rob Berner said projections called for 1,156 homes to be connected by now, but only 844 homes are connected and paying their bills.

Berner said a series of letters has gone out to recalcitrant property owners, and the next step is to file lawsuits.

Morrison said, “They don’t have the money — these are the little old ladies with gray hair.”

The sewer initially was scheduled for completion in November 2010 but was delayed by lawsuits, as well as difficulties with contractors and record rainfalls that slowed construction.

The sewage from the 37 miles of LORCO sewers travels through a 13-mile pipe to the Avon Lake Treatment Plant, which coordinated the project.

Morrison also presented Becky Haines of Avon Lake Municipal Utilities with an estimate of $11,545 to repair Cooley Road and a list of 25 homeowners who said contractors failed to properly restore their property.

Morrison said Avon Lake should hold the feet of contractors to the fire to get the repairs under way.

“Each and every one of them said they had contact with Becky in the past,” Morrison said.

Roig questioned officials about whether they will be able to connect 75 new homes a year to the sewer which he said is needed to pay the debt service on the project.

McConnell, the board president, said, “We recognize we need more customers. … The economy hasn’t provided for the moderate numbers of customers we expected five, six years ago.”

He said the plans were reviewed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FirstMerit Bank, and “obviously, everybody was wrong.”

The board briefly discussed the possibility that homes in Eaton Estates, Brentwood Village and Pheasant Run could be connected to the LORCO sewers.

Morrison said she thinks Avon Lake has benefited from the new customers and the burden of paying the debt service for the LORCO sewers should be shared.

“The Avon Lake treatment costs is going up 4 percent and ours is going up 10 percent,” she complained.

But McConnell said Avon Lake has no obligation to pay for the debt service on the LORCO sewers, which is the reason for most of the increase.

LORCO board member Neil Lynch, an Amherst Towhship trustee and aide to county Commissioner Tom Williams, again questioned LORCO treatment figures that show much more waste being treated at the Avon Lake plant than was supplied by Rural Water to the homes hooked up to LORCO.

Lynch said he suspects infiltration. Haines said the utility also discovered several people living on state Route 83 had hooked their sump pumps to the sewer.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.