December 19, 2014

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North Ridgeville officials discuss funding for sewer project

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The city is going to have to make much-needed repairs and upgrades to its aging sewer lines, but how to pay for that work is going to be a thorny issue.

Mayor David Gillock is urging caution by City Council when it comes to generating the money to pay for the work.

Council’s Utilities Committee recently discussed the matter without making any recommendation for action by the full Council.

Discussion was tabled to allow for more specific data to be provided to answer questions raised by Council members.

Gillock urged local legislators to proceed carefully in considering a temporary hike in a fixed monthly sewer rate charged to residents, saying such an increase could alienate residents should the city need to come back and ask for another hike in the monthly charge.

“A $10 fee may be temporary, but it’s so big that you could get a lot of backlash from residents,” Gillock said last week. “It could certainly impact our ability to do anything in the future.”

The committee is studying the prospects of raising the monthly sewer charge from $1.82 to $10 or more for a limited period.

The revenue generated by the temporary increase would be used for improvements including repairs to existing sub-basins, cleaning plugged sewer lines, repairing cracked and leaking pipes and possible construction of a mega-retention basin holding 2.2 million gallons.

The latter is estimated to cost $6 million.

“Say we buy a ‘vac’ truck (a specialized sewer-cleaning vehicle), fix sewers and build one (mega) basin, then what do we do next year after we’ve told them this was a one-time deal?” Gillock asked.

Gillock said he favors a much smaller permanent fee of $5 or less to provide revenue for repairs and improvements.

Councilman Dennis Boose, D-2nd Ward, who chairs the Utilities Committee, agreed.

“This isn’t the only thing we’re asking residents to pay for,” Boose said, referring to local library and paramedic tax renewals on next week’s ballot, as well as an $8 million bond issue to pay the city’s portion of the $64 million price tag for expanding Center Ridge and Lear-Nagle roads.

Council president Kevin Corcoran, R-at large, noted such fee hikes are gaining broad support.

“This isn’t just happening here,” Corcoran said. “This is a very unpopular but spreading stance nationally of putting more cost on homeowners to solve problems.”

Corcoran and fellow Councilman Ronald Arndt, R-3rd Ward, have also supported a short-term boost in monthly residential fixed sewer rates.

City Council and the mayor have asked for additional data on local sewer charges and other fees from city officials and URS Corp., a Cleveland engineering firm hired to study the city’s sanitary sewer system.

The additional information is expected to help Council better determine which option presented by URS would prove the most beneficial and cost effective.

“We wanted to look at a couple of other scenarios without those big cement retention basins, not knowing how effective they will be given their big price tag,” Boose said.

Chris Nielson, a URS senior project engineer, presented a number of potential solutions ranging from a “do-nothing” approach calling for minimal work and small rate hikes to an ambitious “all-in” plan.

The latter advocates improvements to about half of the city’s smaller 15 to 20 retention basins, each of which hold storm water to prevent or lessen flooding until that water can be carried away by ditches.

The “all-in” plan also calls for buying one to two sewer-cleaning “vactor” trucks, and constructing one to two of the steel-reinforced concrete mega-retention basins.

Nielson said the big basin would have a decided impact on flooding but not without reservations from some.

“We’re talking about a $6 million hole in the ground and whether it will do anything,” Corcoran said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.