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Fee increase passes

After several weeks of discussion on a storm water fee increase, the Ironton City Council passed the one dollar increase on its first reading Thursday evening, which will be implemented as soon as the next billing period.

Ordinance 15-13 increases the storm water fee to $3 per every 1,000 gallons of water used, overriding Ordinance 06-27 that implemented a $2 fee per 1,000 gallons of water used. The money from the fee goes into the storm water fund that is used for the EPA-mandated five-phase project of separating storm water and sewer.

The original proposal had the fee doubling to $4 per 1,000 gallons of water used.

“I’m very pleased that it passed. It’s something that was needed and we had to do,” council member Bob Cleary, said. “I think it’s the best option for what we have to do.”

The $2 fee brought the storm water fund in around $480,000 a year and the one dollar increase will generate around $700,000. With construction for phase three of the project set to start next year, the money needs to start coming in as soon as possible, Cleary said.

The increase still is not enough to cover the entire phase three of the project, but council is going to look into other ways to make up the difference, such as grants and zero-interest funding.

At the last council meeting, resident Robert Beasley suggested the council use curb units to measure square footage of properties to calculate the amount of storm water runoff as a fairer way to generate the money rather than tying it into water usage.

Members of council thought this was a good idea, but were concerned about the logistics and costs of measuring storm water runoff this way. Council member Craig Harvey opposes tying the fee to water usage and voted no on the increase, while coming up with an alternative way to make raising the money simpler.

Harvey’s plan examined every water meter in the city for a total of 4,465 meters. He suggested all residents pay a flat fee of $10 a month while all businesses pay a flat fee of $50 a month. There are 4,087 residential meters and 378 businesses connected to meters. With this method, it would also bring in the needed $700,000 a year.

“I think Craig Harvey had a good idea,” Cleary said. “I’m glad to see other council members instead of just saying no, coming up with other plans.”

Tying the fee to water usage means residents that use more water have to pay more than other residents who use less but have the same amount of storm water runoff from their property. Harvey’s plan would mean large businesses would pay $50 while small businesses that may be struggling to get by would be asked to pay the same amount.

As there is a cost increase in each phase of the five-phase project, council will look into all options again when additional funds are needed, including possibly tweaking Harvey’s plan later down the road. The city council made it clear that it does not want to keep increasing fees for residents.

Cleary said passing the $3 per 1,000 gallons of water used was what had to be done at this time in order to have enough money to start the construction of phase three next year.

“There comes a point where everything changes,” Cleary said. “The EPA is looking at different ways to make the Ohio River cleaner, and separating storm and sewer is one way to do it.”

The other ordinance on the agenda also passed, giving the businesses that rent out space in the city building an incentive for a lease decrease if certain requirements are met. The three resolutions, Resolution 15-10, authorizing the execution of a revolving loan fund agreement between the city of Ironton and the state of Ohio and declaring an emergency, Resolution 15-12, concerning the city’s portion of pension plans, Lawrence County and Resolution 15-14, supporting the Award of State Historic Tax Credits to the Ironton Lofts Project were all passed well.