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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Utility bills are going up for people all across the Valley, and WKBN has heard your complaints.
So we took a look at how local water and sewer bills compare the the rest of the state.
For example, the same glass of water will cost you three times as much in Youngstown as it would in Salem. That’s because every city sets its own water and sewer rates.
The rates are based on how much it costs them to supply the services. Sometimes plants are too big for the cities they serve, as is the case in Youngstown.
“Our infrastructure was designed and built and it’s operated on a number of residents upwards of one hundred thousand,” Youngstown Public Works Deputy Director Charles Shasho said. “As you slip down below sixty thousand, there are fewer people to foot the bill.”
Shasho said that besides the decrease in the number of users, unfunded mandates have led to increases in how much the sewer department has to charge more.
Youngstown is getting ready to start its long-term control plan, which would bring the sewer system into compliance with the latest Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. But Shasho said that it could be twenty to thirty years before those changes are implemented, and in the meantime, customers’ rates have had to go up to pay for the upgrades.
“There is no option not to do the work,” Shasho said of the long-term improvement plan. “If that was an option, we would obviously take that option. The bottom line is, you’ve gotta continue to provide service to the customers.”
WKBN compared the water and sewer rates of every city in Ohio, as found in a yearly report from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
People in Newton Falls and Youngstown pay the highest sewer rates in our area; they pay almost twice the state average.
For water bills, systems in Girard and the Wellsville area charge the most.
WKBN Reporter Amanda Smith asked Mayor Jim Melfi why Girard bills are so high.
“We like to keep the rates as low as possible. But, in this particular case, we have no choice,” Melfi said. “We have to meet the demands of the EPA and we will meet those demands.”
The EPA ordered the city to expand the sewer plant, which will cost $15 million. That means rates are going up.
“Rates have to go up. There has been a rate increase of the past year of fifteen percent,” Melfi said. “There will be another rate increase or two along the way.”
The more you use your sewer and water, the more it will cost.
You can’t pick and choose water and sewer companies like you can with gas and light services.
As for Youngstown’s water bills, Water Commissioner Harry Johnson said that after increases in 2009 and 2014, Johnson believes there will be no increase in 2016, depending on what the city council does about sanitation rates.
The water department’s big project right now is changing out old meters, which calculate how much water a given home or building used. Some of those meters are 25 years old and are only supposed to be used for 15, according to Johnson.
Johnson said that it is possible that a meter would overcharge a customer, but very unlikely, putting the chance at less than one-half of one percent.
Another potential change that Johnson mentioned as being on the city’s back burner is changing how customers are charged. Currently, water rates are regressive, meaning that the people who use the least water pay the most, per gallon, while those who use the most pay the least per gallon. Johnson said that the way the city charges customers could change, but likely not soon.
When asked if low-use customers are subsidizing high-use customers, Johnson said, “I wouldn’t say that, it’s just the way our current rate structure is.”
Johnson also noted that water bills may be higher than some customers expect because Youngstown residents’ water payments cover three services: Water, sewer and sanitation.