A housing market downturn is forcing Lithopolis to ask residents on village water to dig deeper into their pockets and help retire debt service payments on a new water plant by paying a monthly $25 fee.
Lithopolis Village Council held a second reading on the proposed Water Availability Charge during its Oct. 14 meeting.
Financial projections generated by RD Zande and Associates in 2002 were used by the village to secure a $3 million loan from the Ohio Water Development Authority (OWDA) to build a 500,000 gallon daily capacity water treatment plant and water tower.
However, the study provided no room for the reduction in new home construction, resulting in unsustainable numbers for repaying the loan. Water customers in the village, and those using the service in unincorporated areas, would share in the cost of the loan and operational expenses if the charge is adopted at council’s November meeting.
The fee is not related to water service use and does not rely on premise occupancy within the village corporate limits.
"We talked over all of the options and talked about extending the loan," said Councilman Ted Simon.
Mayor Eric Sandine reported on options facing the village, from ignoring the loan: having a lawsuit filed against Lithopolis by the OWDA, and then having to assess a monthly $47 charge to selling the water tower and plant. The plan under consideration by the village would incur no new debt, extend the loan from 20 to 30 years, and assess the $25 charge.
Every parcel within Lithopolis would be assessed the monthly fee, even undeveloped parcels. However, Sandine said the legislation includes a right to appeal based on one or more of five conditions. Water users outside the incorporated area would only be assessed on parcels with water service.
If regular water use collections increase and/or water capacity fees reach a level sufficient enough to meet operation/maintenance/debt service expenses, the village would suspend or reduce the charge for that quarter collection period. Property owners would be notified via their utility bills.
"Council has the authority to suspend or reduce the fee if the water availability fund is solvent," continued Simon. "It will be reviewed quarterly and we hope in four to five years we can abolish it."
Sandine told residents tap fees from new subdivisions paid the loan to this point. However, the village used a rainy day general fund account to make the loan payment in January and needs approximately 1,000 homes to carry the actual cost, which the Zande study originally forecasted. However, only half that number of lots are located within Lithopolis today.
"Council tried to put off raising rates and avoid this," said Sandine, who expects council to pass the legislation next month, which would go into effect 30 days later.
Sandine discussed changes in trash collection by Traces Sanitation due to an increase in trash pick-up. People living outside the village were observed bringing refuse into Lithopolis on collection day and depositing it with residential trash set out for pick-up. In addition, letters were issued to people dumping commercial trash in residential containers.
Residents are asked to be mindful of appropriate recycling and to move their trash containers back to their homes within 24 hours of placing them at the curb.
"Traces is concerned about a number of things," said Sandine. "They see people driving through the village and dropping trash bags off at homes in town. They’re also seeing an increase in trash and we have them in a pretty strict contract. We’d like to see council limit the amount of trash put out at one time like they do on other routes. These changes won’t affect a lot of people, but in order to keep costs low for everybody, we have to limit trash."
Stoney Bluff condominium residents want to open up Market Street into their development. However, variances in street width, differing jurisdictions, water line relocation, and safety issues are concerns that could continue to block the roadway.
"The street width coming out of the subdivision is not the same width as Market Street," said Sandine. "That section is a township area and there are no plans to develop that section. It is not our roadway to do any improvements to. I don’t foresee us opening the street."
One condominium resident said all homeowners see is a road they can’t get to or from and wanted to know what they can do to get Market Street open into Stoney Bluff. However, a Bloom Township trustee gave no indication the township is ready to facilitate the request.
"I don’t like to see it open because it’s a safety issue with kids," said Trustee Brian Randles, noting the school neighboring Market Street. "It was closed off in the 1950s. It’s probably not the best design, but it’s a safety issue."
Councilwoman Ginger Brenning told residents, before Stoney Bluff was developed, no traffic study was conducted and said there are drivers who would rather cut through the subdivision on Market Street if it was opened than stopping at a nearby light.
"We’re not telling you it can’t be done," continued Sandine. "We’re just telling you what needs to be done. We would need to move the water line and it’s not something we’re prepared to do at this time."
Randles addressed a request by Lithopolis for the township to continue providing road salt for the upcoming winter season. He said the township told the village in March how to bid on their own supply and wondered why Lithopolis waited until Sept. 9 to respond back to the township.
"We had to have our (salt) bid in by July 11," reported Randles, who said there is a shortage of salt all over the Midwest.
Sandine said part of the hold-up was discussion on a plan to build a temporary salt barn in Lithopolis.
"You can’t wait until the last minute and holler for salt," Randles continued before inviting Lithopolis representatives to attend the next township meeting. "We’ll work with the community, but we’ve been put in a bad situation. We would like to try to help you. We’re going to be able to do as much as we can, but next year everybody is going to want to lay down the law. We need to work together. No hard feelings. It’s just a bad situation for us."