By RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY
PDT Staff Writer
NEW BOSTON — Members of the Village Council on Tuesday unanimously asked Village Solicitor Walter Lytten to draft a resolution to oppose the City of Portsmouth’s plan to increase sewer rates. Council has also asked Lytten and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the village’s 1991 sewer contract with the city to see whether the city is in violation of that agreement.
During a Portsmouth City Council meeting on Feb. 13, Portsmouth Mayor David Malone announced his plan to impose a 10 percent sewer rate increase, citing a deficit balance in the city sewer fund. The rate increase began on Feb. 1.
“The fund has been at a deficit balance. It was intended to have a rate increase last year. Obviously we didn’t get that done. It didn’t happen, so we basically needed to do it this year to address the deficit fund, again to meet the requirements of the state auditors,” Malone said.
New Boston wasn’t the only one upset by Malone’s announcement. Portsmouth Second Ward Councilman Rich Saddler was also surprised by Malone’s announcement at the Feb. 13 meeting.
“I know, with it being an enterprise fund, it is strictly up to you (Malone) to give the increases. On behalf of myself, and I am sure the majority of people in the Second Ward, I oppose that. I do understand why we have to do that as well,” Saddler said.
New Boston Mayor James Warren said the village should have been informed before the sewer rates were increased.
“I think with the rates that they (the city) have asked previously, and now they’re tacking on a 10 percent charge on top of the rate that was just given; I don’t think that’s quite fair at this time. I know they have financial problems, but I don’t think it’s quite right to the citizens,” Warren said.
In 1991, New Boston signed a contract with Portsmouth agreeing that New Boston would maintain all of the sewer lines that pass through the village, and the city would maintain all of the sewer lift stations. The village also agreed in 1991 to receive no revenue from the city sewer rates, and the city agreed that village residents would not pay more than city residents.
“I think we should be receiving some revenue because their sewers from North Moreland pass through our lines. So we should receive some,” Warren said.
During its meeting Tuesday evening, village council asked Solicitor Walter Lytten to review the contract to see if the city is in violation of that agreement.
Village Administrator Steve Hamilton said the EPA recommends a community should not be paying more than 2 percent of its median household income (MHI) for sewer rates. He said residents of the city right now are paying 1.4 percent, while residents of New Boston are paying 2.4 percent. Even though the dollar-to-dollar rates are the same to both communities, Hamilton said it still represents a larger percentage of household income in New Boston because its MHI is much lower than Portsmouth.
“It’s not fair to village residents already living on a fixed income,” Hamilton said. “I can’t speak for Portsmouth, but I know there are people living in Portsmouth on a fixed income, too.”
Malone could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
In addition to the New Boston Village Solicitor, a copy of the contract has also been sent to the Ohio EPA and the U.S. EPA for review.
Hamilton said both the Ohio EPA and the U.S. EPA will visit the city and the village within the next two or three weeks to discuss their findings in the agreement, as well as the proposed water and sewer rate increase, and the city’s long-term sewer control plan. During their visit, they will also discuss ways the EPA might be able to provide funding assistance for the village’s combined sewer overflow system.
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org.