Balance above water: Sewer fund review prompts need for detailed utility report

With the Wapakoneta Sewer Fund struggling to keep its balance above clean water, city elected officials may have to consider in the future an additional increase to the annual 3 percent hike which typically matches the rise to operate the system.

Before any discussion is to transpire on a possible additional hike, Wapakoneta City Council Finance Committee members say they want to wait for a full report on rates charged consumers for all utilities.

On Thursday, Finance Committee members started reviewing Enterprise Funds  including the sewer fund and other related funds during a meeting to set the 2012 city budget.

“There is an ordinance in place that automatically calls for an annual 3 percent increase, but that is only covering the current expenses and does not provide any funds for major repairs if they are needed,” 3rd Ward Councilor Bonnie Wurst, who chairs the Finance Committee, said noting the sewer fund will meet its obligations this year. “Those funds raised from the 3 percent increase only meet the next year’s operating expenses for personnel, equipment, fuel and chemicals and those keep going up every year.”

The Sewer Fund is expected to generate $2.88 million in revenue with $2.2 million through charges to Wapakoneta utility consumers and through a special $500,000 surcharge for the Long-term Control Plan, which is a special set-aside fund to replace the South Interceptor sewer line. Carry-over funds and other revenue cover the difference.

Estimated expenses for the sewer fund total $2.9 million, but city administrators continue to estimate revenues low and expenses high.

The largest expense is $419,450 for personnel, including insurance and taxes.

The largest capital expense is $275,000 for work at the Wapakoneta Wastewater Treatment Plant for maintenance of the screws and screw pumps in the tanks. They plan to repaint the mechanism and replace the ball bearings.

Another capital expense is to replace stormwater sewer lines as part of the East Benton Street project.

Wurst, who also is a member of the Utilities Committee chaired by Councilor-at-large Steve Walter, announced both committees are interested in a document outlining all annual increases for utilities and city services as well as detailing when the last increase occurred.

“I cannot speak for all the members of the Utilities Committee but my understanding as a new member of the Utilities Committee is that Utilities Committee members will look at all utility funds to see if they are all generating the revenue they need to cover operating expenses and still have money for annual improvements,” Wurst said. “City residents need to know the Long-Term Control Plan is just funds set aside to replace this South Interceptor because we cannot have stormwater and sanitary sewer overflows into the river. This project will replace the sanitary and stormwater sewer line from Water Street to the Wapakoneta Wastewater Treatment Plant along the south side of the Auglaize River.”

Mayor Rodney Metz explained additional funds are needed in the sewer fund to cover the cost of replacing old and deteriorating sewer lines.

“The sewer fund takes care of the operation of the Wapakoneta Wastewater Treatment Plant, the treatment of the wastewater and the care of all the sewer lines,” Metz said.

Councilors and city administrators also discussed lobbying U.S. legislators about the possibility of the city receiving a grant or qualifying for a zero percent loan to help pay for the $30 million South Interceptor sewer replacement project.

Finkelmeier, who also is a member of the Finance Committee and the Utilities Committee, urged Metz and Safety-Service Director Bill Rains to join him on a possible future trip to lobby U.S. senators and representatives from Ohio to provide grants or loans to deal with mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“I would pin down Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen. Rob Portman or Congressman Jim Jordan when they visit the area or I would even volunteer to go to Washington, D.C. to talk about the issue with them — we can all plan to go and I will make the pitch,” Finkelmeier said during the meeting. “I do not think it is fair that our residents meet their bills monthly for years, but we cannot be considered for a grant or a zero interest loan on this project.

“We get by on 1 percent (income tax rate) and we bust our butt to get by providing the services we do — we deserve a little bit of consideration for a grant or a zero percent loan because of these EPA requirements.”