2007-01-27 / News

History repeating itself on huge sewer rate hike

By Charles Prince

NEWARK - It looks like Buckeye Lake Sewer District customers are reliving history.

Nearly eight years ago, sewer district customers received a letter from Licking County Water and Wastewater Director Ken Salsberry Jr. announcing a 66 percent rate increase. Customers were invited to a meeting at Lakewood High School to discuss the "adopted rate increase" from $17.50 per month per equivalent dwelling unit (EDU) to $29 per month per EDU. The tap fee was increased from $500 to $1,000 and the capacity fee went from $1,500 to $2,000. Those fees are now called the $3,000 connection fee. The $1.75 late fee was also increased to $5.

Hundreds of customers turned out for the public meeting, denouncing the rate increase to Salsberry and County Commissioner Marcia Phelps. Phelps was the only commissioner at the meeting. Customers questioned the need for the drastic increase and the absence of a specific improvement plan.

After weeks of analysis by The Beacon and the Harbor Hills Water/Sewer Committee (James Aldridge, Dick Gidlow, George Pugh and Fred Wright), county commissioners ultimately approved a phased increase in late May setting a $24 per month rate for the rest of 1999, $27 per month effective January 1, 2000, and $29 per month effective January 1, 2001. Customers are still paying $29 per month.

Fast forward to January 2007. A January 12 letter from Salsberry and county commissioners announced a proposed rate schedule starting at $49 per month per EDU in February with annual increases running through January 2012. The 2012 rate would be $62.40 per month per EDU. Customers are invited to a public meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 31 at Lakewood High School for answers to "any questions you may have concerning this USEPA and OEPA mandated construction project and related rate increase." The letter didn't mention any increases in the connection fee or the late charge.

A March 27, 2006 update from the water and wastewater department told customers that US EPA and Ohio EPA "are requiring that we upgrade and expand our wastewater treatment plant." The update announced that two construction contracts totalling $9,036,500 had been awarded. Construction was to begin in April and the project is 35 percent complete as of a mid-December progress meeting. The project is on schedule to be completed by February 2008.

The March update stated, "We know this upgrade will affect your monthly sewer bill, but the full impact is not known at this time. We should have all of the figures for the next update."

It's safe to say that few, if any customers, expected a 69 percent increase. Reaction to this proposed increase is quicker and stronger than it was eight years ago. The Beacon received more than a dozen Letters to the Editor this week, condemning the increase and urging customers to come to the January 31 meeting. A petition drive started last weekend with petitions available in restaurants, stores and bars around the lake. This time Buckeye Lake Village Council will actively oppose the proposed increase. Eight years ago, council members rejected late council member Jack Fisk's efforts to have the village oppose the increase. A huge turnout is expected for the public meeting.

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