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Akron City Council passes sewer rate increase

2/6/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

In his third consecutive appearance before Akron City Council’s Public Utilities Committee Feb. 3, Mayor Don Plusquellic asked for approval of an ordinance raising sewer rates and said voting the ordinance down would not temper the city’s combined sewer overflow (CSO) problems.

“There isn’t this wonderful utopian alternative, which is to do nothing,” he said.

The city has for several years been under mandate by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to alleviate CSO and eliminate the discharge of sewage into the Cuyahoga River — and at odds with the EPA over how to do so.

In December, Plusquellic said he intended to withdraw from the Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) between the city and the EPA and under consideration by a federal judge and pursue instead an alternative called an Integrated Plan, which takes into consideration residents’ ability to afford CSO projects, as well as modern and emerging technologies in the future. The costs of the projects under the LTCP had ballooned to $1.4 billion, according to Plusquellic, who said the Integrated Plan had the potential to be a much more affordable option.

“It could save taxpayers millions of dollars,” said Public Utilities Chairman Bob Hoch (D-Ward 6).

However, projects already completed or underway under the LTCP must be paid for, and city officials have projected large sewer rate increases to do so. Plusquellic has said the city potentially would face millions of dollars in fines for violating the federal Clean Water Act without projects to fix CSO. Therefore, Plusquellic stressed Feb. 3 that Council and the city administration didn’t have the luxury to “put our heads in the sand” and hope the issue goes away.

But not all Council members saw it the same way. At the regular Council meeting that night, the ordinance squeaked by with a vote of 8-5.

With Council’s narrow approval, a 40 percent increase in sewer rates goes into effect this month, and Akron ratepayers will see the increase on their March bills. Next year, rates will increase an additional 27 percent. Suburban and master meter rates also are increasing.

The ordinance also will signify to the federal government the city intends to work with the EPA to develop an Integrated Plan.

The next Council meeting will be Feb. 10 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. at the same location.

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