Thursday, April 29, 1999

Water, sewer rates rise

Lebanon OKs yearly increases

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Council introduced and approved Tuesday night a plan to raise residents' water and sewer rates by 17 percent by year's end.

        By December, the rate hike will translate to about $2.10 more each month on the average family's sewer bill. The average water bill will increase 58 cents.

        The legislation also calls for automatic increases each year for an indefinite amount of time, a notion that riled some residents.

        “Increases might not be so bad if they capped it. Now it doesn't have to come up for a vote,” said Claude Williamson, a business owner and resident. “They should have given it a time limit and then voted on it again.”

        Still, he said: “This way to deal with it is better than taxes.”

        Sewer rates will go up June 1 by 6.5 percent, with another increase Dec. 1. Water rates will increase 4 percent, starting Dec. 1.

        Council members said the perpetual rate increases are fiscally responsible and a way to handle annual cost-of-living increases. Council can always revisit the rates and reduce them if necessary, members said.

        But right now, the rate hike is needed to catch up on operating expenses and accommodate the city's growth, they said. In the past decade, the population has increased 31 percent to an estimated 13,700, and the number of new houses constructed since 1990 is more than double those built from 1970 to 1989.

        The rate increases will help finance two bond issues totaling $19 million that council also approved Tuesday. A chunk of the money will go toward capital improvement projects, such as a planned $5.5 million water treatment plant that would nearly double the city's existing capacity.

        About $1 million of the bond money is earmarked for substantial improvements in the city's existing sewer system. Residents have complained of sewer backups and burst pipes for years now, council members said.

        “We've got some cast-iron pipe brought on the Mayflower and made by the Egyptians,” Councilman Mark Flick joked Tuesday. “It's time to stop tapping the resources. I don't want to vote for it, but I don't see any choice.”

        Even with the increases, Lebanon's rates still will compare favorably with those of surrounding cities, said Kim Keefer, a Columbus consultant hired to review area water and sewer rates. The study showed Lebanon's new water and sewer rates will be among the lowest of area cities, including Dayton, Cincinnati, Springboro, Mason and Wilmington.

        Jessica Brown contributed to this report.


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