Complaints continue about water bill increase

(Posted March 14, 2019)

By Andrew Garrett, Staff Writer

Mount Sterling village council continues to wade through water and wastewater problems. They dedicated nearly their entire March 11 meeting to these two issues.

Residents continue to complain about the hike in their water bills, according to utilities clerk, Misty Vance. At a minimum, households in the village are paying $82 each month for water. This includes the first 1,000 gallons of water, she said.

The increase in the monthly bills is not a water rate increase, but a debt fee to cover the cost of the new water plant that was sanctioned by a previous council, Mayor Billy Martin said.

The mayor also mentioned that he is not pleased with reports of residents “cussing” his staff over disputes on the bills.

“It’s disgusting. She has nothing to do with the (cost of these) water bills,” he said, referring to Vance.

Some of the disputes stem from residents receiving shutoff notices.

Bills are mailed out on the first of the month and are due by the 15th, according to the mayor. The due date is printed on the bill. On the 16th, a 10 percent penalty is added to unpaid bills, added council member Becky Martin. Service is scheduled to be cut off the first of the following month, she said. There is a $50 reconnection fee.

Notification of service disconnection is a courtesy, it was noted.

Anyone who doesn’t receive a bill within the first five days of the month is urged to contact Vance, fiscal officer Courtney Bricker, or the mayor. Vance also asked residents to contact her with updated phone numbers as necessary to ensure accurate contact information for accounts.

Residents who are having difficulty paying their bill can contact Vance to make payment arrangements.

“There is a lot of assistance out there that residents are not aware of,” she said.

Application packets for the Jobs and Family Services Wraparound Program are available at Vance’s office at village hall. A referral from the village is necessary to access the various benefits.

Guest Shawn Dobson of Ohio Rural Water Association educated council about village sewer function, maintenance issues, and measures to prevent blockages and backups.

One of the biggest burdens on the sewer system, Dobson said, is infiltration of sewer lines from outside water sources.

After a major rain event, the treatment plant is likely processing hundreds of thousands of gallons of excess water–water that uses chemicals and a lot of energy to be treated without being billed, and therefore at a cost that is never recouped. Such scenarios are commonplace in municipalities around Ohio that have aging infrastructure.

Culprits for infiltration are improper use of sump pumps and illegal tie-ins, Dobson said. Tree roots in lateral sewer lines also are a major source of unwanted load to the system. Another is large catch basins, like parking lot drains. More rarely, he said he has seen instances of tiles crossing creek beds and absorbing water during swells.

Dobson recommended that villages take advantage of a smoke test that would show breaks and cracks in main and lateral lines. The test can be performed in dryer summer months by Ohio Rural Water, which not only provides the leak test, but also education for participants.

Dobson also recommended that the village regularly flush its sewer lines.

Residents are encouraged to be mindful of what they flush down their toilets. More often than not, when the city is called out to inspect a blockage, it occurs somewhere in the lateral line on private property. Any blockage to a lateral line is the responsibility of the homeowner to fix, the mayor said.

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