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Akron considering sewer ordinance

1/16/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

User rates would increase 40 percent this year, Integrated Plan would go forward

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron City Council received legislation from Mayor Don Plusquellic Jan. 16 pertaining to his December announcement the city will seek an alternative plan to deal with its combined sewer overflow (CSO) situation.

The new plan would still involve raising residential and commercial sewer rates, but not as high as city officials had feared, Plusquellic said.

Council is taking time on the issue, with Plusquellic requesting that members seek answers to any of their questions and be prepared to vote Jan. 27, after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, when Council will not meet.

In December, Plusquellic announced the city will withdraw its Updated Long Term Control Plan, which has been under consideration in federal court since November 2011, and pursue instead a new option offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called an Integrated Plan. The intention is to reach an agreed-upon plan with the EPA that is more affordable than the Long Term Control Plan, which Plusquellic said would cost the city as much as $1.4 billion. [For more details on that announcement, see “Akron withdraws from sewer plan to enter into alternate” in the Dec. 19, 2013, West Side Leader or visit the archives at www.akron.com.]

The ordinance currently before Council urges the EPA to accept the mayor’s proposal to allow the city to enter into an Integrated Plan and support continuation of the engineering and design projects mutually agreed upon by the U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA, as well as the city.

Under its new direction, the city would utilize the EPA’s own guidance on the affordability of sewer services to set sewer rates for users. The EPA, according to city officials, recommends that residents’ average sewer bills should be 2 percent of that city’s median household income.

Speaking to Council’s Public Utilities Committee, Plusquellic said he would like to see sewer rates at that 2 percent figure, plus $1, per month. According to information provided by city officials, the median household income for Akron is $33,598.

If the ordinance is approved, Akron ratepayers will see a 40 percent increase in their sewer rates effective in February. Rates would increase an additional 27 percent in 2015. By way of example, the average median household, which currently pays about $34 per month based on usage, would see an increase to about $57, Plusquellic said.

But the hope is, said the mayor, that rates then would level off.

“Anything beyond that, I will fight any way I can … to hold it at that,” he said.

The increase would provide the city with a “pot of money” to undertake necessary engineering and design work on projects to alleviate CSO, Plusquellic said. Without the increase as proposed in the ordinance, the city would find itself back in court over the issue, and rates would “skyrocket.” Under any circumstance, he said, the city would need to bring a rate increase before Council this year due to the CSO mandates.

In addition to the rate increase, the ordinance addresses hiring local and minority residents for work related to the CSO construction projects, a much discussed subject related to the CSO issue. The ordinance provides for the establishment of an advisory committee to review and make recommendations concerning hiring. Plusquellic said there would be at least 11 members, with representation from each of the city’s 10 wards.

In legislative action, Council approved:

  • the acceptance of funding and the payment of local shares for the Juvenile Assistance Grant and Juvenile Assistance Block Grant programs through the state of Ohio. The local shares are $3,532 (25 percent local match) and $1,111 (10 percent local match), respectively;
  • a conditional use, following a public hearing at which no one spoke, to place an outdoor advertising display at 1 Akron General Way in Downtown Akron; and
  • the filing of the annual application for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Supportive Housing Program for Stewart B. McKinney funds for the homeless. Planning Committee Chairman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) said the city is applying for $4.5 million to fund 37 projects from 14 organizations.

Also at the meeting, nearly a dozen citizens spoke during the Public Comment Period. Their comments were related to an alleged “shoving match” or scuffle that reportedly took place between Plusquellic and Councilman Russel Neal Jr. (D-Ward 4) in the room behind Council Chambers following Council’s Dec. 16 swearing-in ceremony.

The residents, who included several of the city’s prominent black ministers, scolded Council for focusing on in-fighting when larger issues, such as crime and foreclosures, need to be addressed.

Council President Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 10) briefly responded, saying he was the only witness to the incident, which he described as a “miniscule” scuffle that paled in comparison to far worse arguments he’s seen at city hall. He described Plusquellic and Neal as two very passionate individuals engaging in a spirited argument, and assured the speakers their passion for the issues they raise is matched by that of Council’s.

Plusquellic did not attend the regular Council meeting, but Neal also responded by thanking the individuals who spoke about issues in the city, and urged the residents to hold him accountable to remain focused on those issues.

“It takes a community to address our issues and concerns,” he said.

Due to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, Akron City Council will not meet Jan. 20. The next regular Council meeting will be Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers, on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. in Downtown Akron. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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