Council to enact
new fees on water bill
During a meeting with New Boston village officials on Friday, Portsmouth Mayor Jane Murray said she was planning to take to City Council her idea of repealing a recently passed flood levy and replacing it with a flood defense fee and stormwater fee on Portsmouth residents’ water bills — and she suggested the village might benefit from doing the same.
The village and the city met in New Boston on Friday to discuss their shared infrastructure and update each other on the status of their flood defense system inspection in April 2011.
The meeting began with municipalities discussing a wastewater grant that would upgrade lines that run from city residents’ households in North Moreland and county residents’ households in Eden Park, through the village New Boston on its way to the city treatment facility. Because those lines would run through the jurisdictions of all three government entities, all three are required to submit usage data. Each would also be entitled to collect revenue on its shared usage, which could bolster the village economy as it looks for ways to afford upcoming inspection and certification of its flood defense system.
New Boston Village Administrator Steve Hamilton said he would have all of the village sewer data available for the city and the county before Dec. 10.
After discussing the grant application, Murray shared with the village her ideas for collecting additional revenue to support city flood defense.
“I don’t know how you (New Boston) fund your flood protection here, but the City of Portsmouth has been pulling it from a 0.9 mil property tax. And the fund is still sufficient to handle the work that we’re doing for the levy certification and the improvements that we need to make to the levy system ... but there are a couple of concerns I’ve had. Number one, that amount has been decreasing and it’s really not equitable,” Murray said.
She said the flood defense tax has dwindled from $225,000 a year to less than $119,000 a year, and does not collect from non-profits, hospitals, universities or the government. More than 70 percent of property taxes in the city are paid by residential homeowners. The tax has also taken an additional hit from the growing number of foreclosures and bankruptcies.
“The fund has decreased and will continue to decrease, so I’m looking at a different way of potentially funding this,” Murray said.
Her solution is to repeal the flood defense tax levy and replace it with a flood defense fee that city residents would pay based on their water usage scale. Voters in Portsmouth renewed the tax this month, by a vote of 3,128 in favor and 2,023 against. She also told village officials that she was going to recommend that Portsmouth also institute a stormwater fee on city residents’ utility bills.
Murray said she has not yet proposed these plans to Portsmouth City Council.
“It’s still in the developmental stages,” Murray said.
She suggested that the village might want to consider a similar flood defense fee on New Boston residents, but she was immediately met with skepticism by village officials.
“The proposal that I thought New Boston might want to consider is that if you want to put a flood defense fee on people in New Boston it would be a revenue stream for you ... Now you’re shaking your head and I don’t know why you’re shaking your head before you even hear the proposal,” she said.
Hamilton expressed concern that any increase in water rates would elevate rates to more than 3 percent of the median village household income.
“If you don’t want to do it, if you don’t want to use it as a revenue stream or flood defense, that’s of course your prerogative. I’m just saying that we (the city of Portsmouth) are going to consider it and it might be something useful to you,” Murray said.
She said she would like to use part of the money to replace the current floodgates — which take about two days to manually install each time they’re used — with new, automatic gates. She said the new gate would allow a quicker response and less work for city employees.
Murray asked if the village felt confident they would complete their certification before the April 2011 deadline arrives. If either the village or the city does not pass flood defense certification, residents of both municipalities will be required to provide their own private flood insurance. If that happens, flood insurance rates will be much higher.
Murray said Portsmouth is already well underway with its certification process, while the village did not approve funding for Phase One (of three) until this week.
Further complicating matters, the village also suffered equipment malfunctions this week at one of its flood pump stations, which has knocked three stations offline temporarily. Hamilton is already seeking assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, and has expressed repeated frustration at state and federal government’s refusal to help with stimulus funding.
Murray reaffirmed her proposed flood defense and stormwater fees as a possible solution, but Warren assured her that the village was on-track and would meet its levy certification deadline in April.
“I feel that we are going to get certification. It’s just that we’re not moving as fast probably as they think we should. But I’m not for sure that they’re on any faster track than what we are,” Warren said.
He also expressed caution toward Murray’s fee proposals and said it would require a lot of study before he accepted that plan.
“I think the people anymore are being taxed heavily the way it is. So what kind of benefits would there be? What would be the total cost? Will it take less burden off them (the residents) later on?” Warren said. “That would be something that council would have to look at, but at this present time, I’m not looking at a fee. It’s something that has to be studied in great depth.”
He said he hoped the residents of New Boston will support the village in whatever way it ultimately finds it has to certify its flood defense system.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org.