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Rate hike gets initial approval

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At its Jan. 19 meeting, Village Council gave initial approval to a water rate increase that will take place over five years, beginning in April 2010, by unanimously passing the first reading of a new ordinance. Council will vote on the final reading for the rate hike at its Feb. 1 meeting.

The action is the first water rate increase in the Village since 2001. It is necessary because the water utility fund is currently operating at a deficit, and the increase will allow revenues to keep pace with expenses, according to a report by Village Manager Mark Cundiff. Also, the rate increase will allow the Village to make capital improvements in the water system that it currently is not able to afford.

The increase is tied to water consumption. The readiness-for-service, or base rate, will remain the same as it has been since 2001.

“Tying the increase to water consumption is something that people can control,” said Council member Karen Wintrow at the meeting. “They can choose to reduce consumption, thereby reducing their bill.”

The base RFS rate, which is linked to the size of a customer’s water meter, will remain constant at $6.80 per month. That RFS rate is for water meters sized at -inch, which is the size of most home meters, according to Cundiff in an interview last week. The base rate increases as the water meter size goes up.

The consumption component of the rate hike will increase the first year from $3.45 per 1,000 gallons to $3.80 per 1,000 gallons, a $.35 increase. A family of four that consumes the average of about 7,500 gallons of water a month would see an increase in its bill of about $2.60 per month, or about $30 per year, according to Cundiff.

In 2011, the consumption rate will increase to $4.20 per 1,000 gallons, which will be, for the family of four, an increase of a little more than $5 per month, or about $60 per year over current costs. The consumption rate will increase at a slower pace in the following three years, to $4.40 per 1,000 gallons in 2012, $4.55 in 2013 and $4.70 in 2014.

The consumption rate increases are front-loaded to make up for the long period when there were no rate increases, according to Cundiff. That initial jump in revenue will allow the Village to take on necessary water capital projects, which could include repairing the current bottleneck in the south end of town, replacing old pipes on Corry and Livermore streets and installing new pipes on King Street, Cundiff said. Villagers currently experience brown water when hydrants are flushed due to the presence of manganese and iron, and a future project may include addressing that issue, he said.

The new ordinance also adds a surcharge of 50 percent of the regular monthly charge to water users outside the Village, unless customers have a pre-existing contractual arrangement with the Village.

The water rate increase follows an analysis of the Village water and sewer systems by Woolpert Consultants, who reported their findings to Council in the fall. Woolpert recommended that the Village raise both water and sewer rates, although the water rate increase was the most pressing, since the water system is currently operating at a deficit and the sewer system is not. In a previous Council meeting, Cundiff recommended that sewer rates not be raised at this time.

In other Council business:

• Council unanimously approved the final reading of a new ordinance that establishes procedures for notifying citizens of public meetings. The new procedures cover regular, special and emergency meetings.

Council also unanimously passed a motion made by Council President Judith Hempfling that the Village make an e-mail list of all citizens who request notification for special meetings.

The ordinance may be seen online at Click on Council packet for Jan. 19.

While Council previously had rules regarding notifying citizens for Council meetings, it did not have any official procedures regarding notification for meetings of Village commissions. That oversight came to light in December when a villager sued the Village over a planned special meeting of the Energy Task Force which did not meet the requirements of the Ohio Sunshine Law. After that incident, Council requested that Village Law Director John Chambers draft a new ordinance establishing the procedures for notification for all Village meetings.

“These procedures are more than adequate to meet the requirement of the law,” according to Chambers, who was present to answer questions.

The Sunshine Law focuses on two requirements, according to Chambers: that municipalities have general procedures to notify the public of Village meetings, and that municipalities notify any citizens and press organizations that request notification about any meetings on a specific topic.

In answer to questions regarding the notification procedures, Chambers said that sending e-mails and leaving messages on answering machines are considered legitimate ways of making contact, even if there is no clear response from the receiver.

“There has to be a reasonable attempt at notification, a good faith effort to comply,” he said.

Citizens who asked to be notified also have some responsibility to make themselves accessible via e-mail or phone, according to Joan Edwards.

According to the ordinance, the Village will post all times for regular meetings at the beginning of the year at the Bryan Center lobby, at the Yellow Springs library, in the Yellow Springs News and on the Village Web site, and notification will also be posted nearer the meeting time, giving citizens at least 24 hours notice. Regarding special meetings, postings of the meeting will be made if possible at least 24 hours in advance at the Village building, on the Village Web site and in the News, if the publication schedule allows. All citizens and media organizations that have requested notification will be notified via e-mail or phone. Citizens and media organizations that request notification will pay a fee of $5 per year to help cover the Village’s costs in making the notification. That fee is lower than in many municipalities, Chambers said.

Dan Carrigan urged Council to post notice of special meetings in the Yellow Springs News even if the meeting has passed at publication time, since the paper provides a historical record of the event.

• Council’s next regularly scheduled meeting will take place on Monday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.

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