SALEM – Most of the townspeople have heard that water prices were going up in January – they can now expect a written explanation with their next bill.
“Nobody likes to see anything go up, but in this case it is absolutely necessary”, said Mayor John Berlin.
In an interview this week, the chairman of the Berlin and City Utilities Commission, Bob Hodgson, shared the latest details on the water tariff increase – how the increase will affect the number out of town customers and information regarding upgrades required for the aging water treatment plant located on Gamble Road next to the City of Salem Reservoir.
“The obligation of the Utilities Department and the Commission is to provide an adequate supply of potable water to our current and future customers. Our employees have done a remarkable job of producing safe water and need the planned improvements to continue to do so ”, Hodgson said.
This is the quote at the bottom of the one-page document titled “Why an increase in the water tariff? “ which will be inserted in the January bills.
The commission has been saying for some time that water prices should go up to help pay for plant improvements and if the Rural Community Assistance Program had done a rate study, including all costs. operation / maintenance to produce and distribute drinking water to customers of today and tomorrow. The rate study also took into account the estimated cost of $ 14.2 million for the modernization of the water treatment plant.
The commission voted last month to approve the increases and does not need council approval for the increases to take effect, although the mayor explained that council will vote in January to ratify what the commission already has. do. The increases we are talking about relate only to the water in the bill. Sewer tariffs were increased by the council earlier this year, increasing the sewer side of the bill.
Starting in January, the minimum water bill for city customers will increase by $ 9 in the first year for the first 200 cubic feet of water used and for every additional 100 cubic feet of water the rate will increase by 5 , 5%.
According to Hodgson and Berlin, typical residential water consumption of 650 cubic feet will cost $ 29.53 in January, an increase from the current $ 19.75. For out-of-town customers, who are billed 50 percent more or 1.5 times the amount paid by an in-city customer, with a typical water usage of 650 cubic feet, the cost will drop to 44, $ 30. This is an increase from the current $ 29.63.
For subsequent years, the minimum base will increase by $ 7 in 2023 and $ 5 in 2024, with tariff increases of 5.5% each in 2023, 2024, 2025 and 2026 for city customers, external customers paying. 50% more. External clients include residents of the Township of Perry and the villages of Leetonia and Washingtonville. For anyone using gallons, Berlin explained that 100 cubic feet equals 748 gallons, so the average user per gallon would use 4,862 gallons per month.
The last water tariff increase took effect five years ago.
When asked what the comments looked like since the approval of the new rate hike, Hodgson said the biggest comment they had heard was “Why didn’t you do it more gradually and earlier? “ He said people seem to understand what the commission has to do with upgrades.
He stressed that the objective of this commission is to ensure that they leave the operation better than when they started to guarantee drinking water for years to come. They cannot undo what has not been done.
“We just have to go forward” he said.
Here are some shared facts in support of the tariff increase: the current water plant began operations in 1953 and received a major upgrade 29 years ago in 1992; the average lifespan of the equipment is 25 years; Environmental Protection Agency guidelines have become stricter for controlling disinfection byproducts and set more stringent limits on algae treatment or source water.
The power station’s back-up generator (new in 1982) is rated at 350 kilovolts, but the power station needs a minimum of 800 kilovolts for backup; electrical service is 480 kilovolts / 600 amps while the need is 1,250 kilovolts / 1,600 amps; which means that the current power supply is not sufficient to run everything and does not meet regulatory requirements. The age of electrical equipment makes it difficult to find spare parts.
The cost of upgrading electrical equipment, generator and communications is $ 2.9 million.
Current water treatment processes are inefficient due to outdated equipment and design, with spare parts being removed from back-up equipment to keep the plant running. The tanks have passed their useful life and are at risk of leaking. The cost to upgrade equipment and modernize processes is $ 5 million.
Responding to the EPA’s environmental concerns and requirements is becoming increasingly difficult. The cost of controlling organic contaminants is estimated at $ 6.3 million.
In total, these upgrades total $ 14.3 million. The water tariff increase is expected to generate $ 78,000 per month and the loan to pay for the three phases of upgrading is expected to cost $ 70,000 per month at current interest rates.
Berlin said commission members have been methodical in their analysis of what needs to be done. He said he was satisfied with the commission and the work done to get there.
Regarding the additional charges for outside customers, the two pointed out that the city maintains the lines and the plant and that the majority of the money to pay these costs comes from Salem customers. Hodgson also confirmed that for residents of Leetonia and Washingtonville, their rates are determined by their villages. The city charges each village the minimum and external tariff for their bulk water, and then the villages charge their customers their own minimum tariffs and tariffs based on their usage.