POMEROY — New year, same debate.
The first Pomeroy Council meeting of 2017 picked up right where the final meeting of 2016 left off — debating a water rate increase.
Tuesday’s meeting (moved from Monday due to the holiday) covered new year’s organization, extensive discussions of water and sewer services, and a preliminary discussion of downtown parking meters.
Language for the amendment to ordinance 780.16 was given a first reading on Tuesday, with subsequent readings to take place at upcoming meetings.
A planned January increase of 4.75 percent in water and sewer service for village customers dominated the final meeting of 2016, and council decided at that time to amend ordinance 780.16 and push the increase to June.
Prior to changing an ordinance, three such readings are required by law.
A report from a water system consultant hired by the village mid-2016 was discussed at the Dec. 19 meeting, and brought up again by members of the public in attendance during the Jan. 3 meeting. Some of the report’s recommendations, which included large increases in customer billing to stabilize the water system finances, were based on an estimate the village has a water loss rate of 68 percent.
Pomeroy resident Randy Smith asked a series of questions to determine whether the council planned to address that number, how the rate became so large, and if contact with the study’s authors had continued following their recommendations.
He expressed sympathy that water systems can be extraordinarily problematic to manage, but “something caused this, someone dropped the ball,” he said, later adding that if the recent rate hikes are related to loss of customers, “68 percent of customers aren’t getting a bill.”
Clerk Sue Baker posited many village problems stem from the lack of a village administrator. The administrator directly oversees public works, which manages the village’s water and sewer systems.
During the Dec. 19 meeting, Councilperson Phil Ohlinger said locating where over two thirds of village water goes is a top priority.
“We are not sure that number is accurate,” Ohlinger added, but tackling that issue would be “the first order of business for the village administrator.”
Related information offered by the council to residents on Jan. 3 included: the study did not take measurements but was supplied data by the village, some agencies like the fire department do not pay for water use, and according to Councilperson Don Anderson, between 5-20 percent constitutes a normal loss rate.
Smith said “It hurts to pay an increase, but we’ll pay our bill.”
Of the customer rate hikes, Smith said if some of the larger and more obvious deficiencies were addressed, “I do believe everyone could stomach that.”
Ohlinger stated: “We promised that we will, but we’ve got to organize the water department,” and reiterated “it should be the first priority” for an incoming village administrator.
More on Tuesday’s meeting will appear in the Friday edition of The Daily Sentinel.
Michael Hart is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.