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Council opposes sewer hike

BUCKEYE LAKE- Buckeye Lake resident Kitty Zwissler won’t take any – stuff.

She asked the Buckeye Lake Village Council Monday night to take a public stand against what she called an “egregious” 69 percent sewer rate hike proposed by the Licking County Water and Wastewater Department. If imposed, monthly sewer rates for Licking County sewer customers will rise from $29 to $49 starting February and increase annually until residents are paying $62 per month by January 2012. “We’ve formed a committee to oppose it,” she said, called TURF, or Taxpayers Urging Reasonable Fees. Zwissler said a friend who moved to Harbor Hills recently spent a total of $13,000 to hook onto Licking County water and sewer services after all the fees were paid.

“We are a poverty zone,” she said, “This is truly a regressive form of taxation” or a fee that creates a higher burden on those with lower incomes than those with higher incomes. Zwissler said TURF is prepared to filea court injunction if Licking County Water and Wastewater proceeds with the rate hike. She urged residents to attend a meeting about the rate hike sponsored by the Licking County Commissioners Wednesday, Jan. 31, 7 p.m. at the Lakewood High School auditorium.

Zwissler added that residents are already paying about $10 per month for a pre-assessment fee to help Buckeye Lake Village finance a proposed public water system. She believes the sewer rate hike would have a negative impact on future development.

Council member Drew Bourne agreed that council should write a letter to the Licking County Commissioners opposing the rate hike.

Council member Jim Bartoe projected that Buckeye Lake Village residents could be paying up to $125 per month for combined water and sewer fees by 2012. All council members present supported writing a letter to county commissioners, opposing the rate hike.

Mayor Frank Foster said a large crowd at the Jan. 31 meeting would make a statement to the county.

Licking County Water and Wastewater Department Director Ken Salsberry said Tuesday the reason for the rate increase is a $9 million upgrade and expansion of the Buckeye Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant required by US EPA and Ohio EPA. “The system must be self-supporting,” he said.

Licking County Commissioner Marcia Phelps said Tuesday she isn’t aware of any possibility of reducing the proposed rate increase. “The cost of the mandated upgrades of the plant created the high costs and the debt to pay for the same. The proposed rates are based on those costs,” she said. “I’m still open to hear all comments and evaluations.”

On the upside, Foster said Monday night if the sewer rate hike does take place as proposed, the village may be eligible for a $300,000 grant for the public water system. The higher sewer rate would qualify the village for the grant.

In other council news:

+ Buckeye Lake Planning Commission member George O’Donnel said a possible Native- American winter solstice mound on the Bounds Farm property will not become a “center of debate,” as was implied in Columbus media. He wants the Landings and Residences at Maple Bay – a 320 unit residential development proposed for the Bounds Farm property – to move forward, but developers need to respect what could be an ancient Native- American structure on the property, which uses the angle of the sun to identify a change in seasons.

“Don’t look at me as being an obstructionist to the development,” he said to council, adding that he was speaking to them as a village resident, not as a member of the planning commission.

Ultimately, the Maple Bay development must receive final approval from the Buckeye Lake Village Council, and O’Donnel asked council members to consider reserving about 1.5 acres to surround and preserve the ancient structure. Current plans have houses on the structure. Foster said that preserving the structure would not require more greenspace (or less housing) on the site. It would only require “shifting things around a bit.”

+ Council took the first step in determining how much revenue a three mill levy would generate. Council plans to place a three mill levy on the May ballot, splitting the revenue between the Buckeye Lake fireand police departments. Foster said the levy could not be placed on the ballot as a combined fireand police levy, but the village can place into ordinance that the revenue be divided between the two departments.

+ Certain to appear on the May ballot are three Buckeye Lake Village Charter amendments that failed by three votes during the November election.

+ Foster said floodplain regulation public hearings will take place 30 minutes prior to the next three regular council meetings. He said floodplain maps were amended and FEMA approved them last year. Now village regulations must be updated. The current regulations go back to the 1990s. “It is our intent to adopt more stringent regulations that mirror Licking County’s for two reasons,” he said. First, residents who pay flood insurance will receive a significantreduction in rates, and secondly so Licking County can administer the regulations.

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