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Akron continues sewer rate discussion

1/30/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Vote on increase held off until next week; City Council also discusses verified alarm response policy

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron City Council will take another week’s time before voting on legislation that would result in a 40 percent increase in sewer rates this year and support for a new direction in the city’s long-standing combined sewer overflow (CSO) situation.

The legislation was introduced at Council’s last meeting Jan. 13.

In December, Mayor Don 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.

The ordinance currently before Council urges the EPA to accept the mayor’s proposal to allow the city to enter into an Integrated Plan. 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. 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.

Plusquellic met with the Public Utilities Committee again Jan. 27 in a nearly two-hour meeting to answer questions and continue to detail the Integrated Plan concept and the related rate increase, as well as additional measures in the ordinance that relate to the hiring of Akron residents on the project created by the Integrated Plan.

Plusquellic stressed Council members should lay aside their political differences and not attempt to be a “hero” or stand up to Plusquellic and vote “no” on the ordinance. The alternative would be more costly to the city, he stated repeatedly: Without the rate increase — and, subsequently, the cash flow to pay for the federally mandated projects — the city could face millions in fines for failing to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act, he said.

Finance Director Diane Miller Dawson noted the city, without or without a rate increase, would still be responsible to pay the interest and principal on bonds and loans for CSO projects.

“We need at least $8 million just to stay even,” she said, adding that defaulting on the loans would jeopardize the city’s ability to borrow money.

“I believe we only have two paths to take,” Plusquellic added, saying that without Council’s approval of the rate increase, the city would not be able to pay its bills on projects to which it has committed.

The hope for the Integrated Plan is that it would be a more affordable option for the city to alleviate CSO as mandated by the EPA, but sewer rates will need to be increased for ratepayers regardless, Plusquellic said.

In other business, Council’s Public Safety Committee, at its meeting in the afternoon, held a lengthy conversation with Akron Police Department (APD) Capt. Paul Calvaruso regarding the APD’s new policy on responding to security alarms.

Calvaruso said the APD is committed to enacting the new verified alarm response policy March 1. Under the new policy, officers will respond only to alarms that are confirmed by a security agency representative, or with verification of an intrusion by an individual or video or audio confirmation, or a perimeter alarm breech in conjunction with an internal motion detector breech. Officers will still respond to hold-up alarms, bank alarms and panic alarms.

The new policy is intended to reduce time spent responding to false alarms. According to APD officials, 98 percent of the alarms officers respond to are false alarms.

Calvaruso acknowledged there has been considerable pushback in the community to the announcement of the new policy, but it has been very effective in other cities and has the potential to save Akron more than $200,000 a year.

“We have a faulty system,” he said. “We have a faucet that’s leaking bad.”

Calvaruso said the new policy will be re-evaluated after a year.

Also at the committee meeting, Alan Gillmore III, of Gillmore Security and also representing the Electronic Security Association, spoke.

He urged the increase of fees for false alarms rather than the reduction in police response to punish the abusers rather than the whole of the users. He warned the new policy could be dangerous to nonaffluent homeowners and small businesses who couldn’t afford increased security.

At the regular Council meeting later that night, several people attended the meeting under the mistaken impression that Council would be voting on an alarm ordinance. Council President Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 10) said they had been misinformed and the policy is an administrative change. No Council action was planned pertaining to the alarm policy, he said.

In legislative action, Council:

  • accepted and pledged a 25 percent match for a $60,000 Violence Against Women Act grant to fund two police liaisons who work on domestic violence cases;
  • approved the $25,757 purchase of fitness equipment for the CitiCenter Athletic Club; and
  • approved a resolution of support for the application for tax credits for the construction of units at the Spring Hill Apartments complex in the Lane/Wooster neighborhood. Councilwoman Margo Sommerville (D-Ward 3) said the hope is to gear more of the units for senior housing.

Next week, Council will hold a public hearing on the 2014 Capital Investment and Community Development Program, also known as the Capital Budget.

The next Akron City Council meeting will take place Feb. 3 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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