Rate Hike On Horizon

ST. MARYS — Water customers of the city of St. Marys should expect to pay more for the service as part of a proposed 34 percent rate increase during the next two years.

Water/Wastewater Superintendent Dave Sprague unveiled a recently completed water rate study to members of the St. Marys Water/Wastewater Committee during Monday night’s meeting. In his report, Sprague noted Jones and Henry Engineers recommended a 34 percent increase in water rates to make sure the water fund has adequate money to handle future projects. City officials commissioned a water study earlier this year because revenue for the water fund has sagged while expenses have increased.

“We’ve been talking about it off and on for a couple of years now,” Sprague said, noting the topic first surfaced in 2010, but city officials opted to keep rates at current rates because of the recession. “There hasn’t been a water rate increase since council authorized one in 1991 and the third phase was in 1995. It’s been 17 years since we’ve done anything with water rates.”

The 34 percent increase is proposed to be spread across 2013 and 2014 — 17 percent each year. The first increase is proposed to take effect March 1 and the second phase on March 1, 2014.

Using 2010 rates, a city customer that used 1,037 cubic feet of water a year paid $308.

That figure would increase to $373 during the first phase of the rate increase and then increase to $437 in the final phase. Sprague calculated current rates and noted for  the same amount of water now, a customer would pay $318.

Despite the increase, that ranks among the lowest rates in the region. Celina customers paid $691 for the same amount of water, while Wapakoneta residents paid $419 in 2010. Delphos customers paid $920, while Van Wert residents paid $501 for the same amount of water.

The increase also is expected to help the water fund create a surplus to pay for long-term, future projects —  including a new water plant.

“There should be some surplus left to put into a reserve account,” Sprague said.

“A few projects have been postponed because of the condition of our funds. I don’t want to go hogwild ... But it will give us some reserves.”

Sprague also compiled a list of projects that the rate hike would pay for in the immediate future. The list includes $500,000 for the design and installation of a new water well, $500,000 for the replacement of the Villa Nova water main and $250,000 for the repainting of the interior of the McKinley Road water tower.

Sprague likened the proposed water rate increase to the sewer rate increase in 2005. That rate increase was necessary to cover the cost of an approximately $11 million wastewater treatment plant.

“The sewer rate increase back in 2005 was a 65 percent rate increase that was over three years,” Sprague said. “We had a lot to pay for there.”

According to the Ohio Revised Code, Safety-Service Director Eric Ostling has the authority to set water rates. However, councilors are expected to be presented with a resolution to vote on the recommendation at a future meeting.

The next meeting of the St. Marys City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at the city building located along East Spring Street.