April 24, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain plans sewer rate hike to fight flooding

LORAIN — Sewer rates are going up to make flooding go down.

The $2 per month increase for residential customers was unanimously approved by City Council members Monday and will raise about $528,000 annually. Commercial customer rates will rise from 2 percent of their use to 2.5 percent, but no more than $7 per month. The money will pay for capital improvements as well as engineering and personnel costs to reduce flooding from storm water runoff.

“The rate increases are just and necessary if we are going to move forward as a city,” said Councilman Bret Schuster, D-4th Ward. “Until we invest in ourselves, we’re not going to get anybody to invest in us.”

Schuster’s ward includes Martins Run Creek, a chronically flooded area that begins south of Cooper Foster Road along state Route 2 and drains into Lake Erie. Part of the money would be used for dredging at Martin’s Run, according to Safety Service Robert Fowler. Flooding mitigation will also be done in the Clinton Avenue and the Orchard Hill watersheds with retention ponds built.

Storm drains clogged with leaves exacerbate flooding, so five leaf collection machines will be purchased for $100,000, replacing the three aging ones Lorain has. Two street sweepers will also be bought.

Fowler said curbs and gutters will be replaced including on Homewood Drive and $100,000 will be spent annually on ditch and storm sewer cleaning. He said the timing of the mitigation will coincide with Lorain’s $40 million road improvement program.

“If we are going to pave the streets and not take care of the drainage issue, potentially in three or four years, we’ll be back to the situation we are at present,” Fowler said. “We have to address those flooding issues.”

The increase takes effect in January. The approximately 20,000 residential customers presently pay $3 per month. The last increase was 50 cents per month in January.

Mayor Chase Ritenauer said he understands cash-strapped customers won’t like paying higher fees, but Lorain can’t afford to continue “band-aid” improvements.

Wracked by deindustrialization and depopulation which shrunk employment and its tax base, Lorain has had to forego major infrastructure improvements in the last decade.

“When problems are ignored, you get to the position we are in now,” Ritenauer said. “We’re doing our best so that when this money is expended (improvements) last for a long time.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.