Bexley City Council planned to host the first of three planned public meetings Tuesday, May 14, to discuss upgrades to the water and sewer system and the rate increases on residents' bills that will fund them.
City engineer studies have found that 90 percent of the 813,000 feet of water and sewer lines running through Bexley are in poor condition. Public Service Director Bill Harvey said that's because 60 percent of the city's pipes were installed a century ago and have remained in use far beyond their 80-year expectations.
"They were breaking and there is a cost benefit when they have a lot of breaks to just replace the line instead of constantly going back and patching the breaks," he said.
Since 2000, 7 percent of the city's water lines have been replaced, including main lines at Cassidy, College and Sheridan avenues.
Harvey said an EPA-required replacement of sewer pipes will keep water from backing up on the street and in yards during storms and, in some areas, water line repairs can increase water pressure.
More replacements are planned under Main Street and near the Bexley police station, Harvey said, but they're just the beginning. The ultimate goal is to raise nearly $61 million over the course of the next 40 years to replace and make repairs to the aging sewer and water systems.
During the May 14 meeting, Councilman Steve Keyes, chairman of the Service Committee, explained the water and sewer ordinance that currently includes three funding structures that would make the replacements possible. The city estimates it can fund $10 million of the replacements through grants and no-interest loans, but the rest would come from residents.
Each of the plans would implement a percentage fee based on usage every quarter as opposed to a flat fee.
"I feel pretty strongly that the best way to do that is a percentage of the quarterly bill," Keyes said. "That just seems the fairest way to do it."
The first plan's initial fee would be 8.74 percent of the bill and an increase by 6.25 percent each year over the course of 30 years.
Option two is listed in the plan as the method preferred by the city administration. In its first year, residents would be charged at a rate of 6.56 percent of the bill, which would increase by 5 percent each year for 40 years.
Keyes said he supports the third funding option, which would initially charge a 10-percent replacement fee based on usage. That fee would increase by 3.55 percent each year.
"We're all about doing what's in the best long-term interest of the city and we're confident this is the right course," Keyes said.
In the majority of Bexley homes, the quarterly water bill falls between $201 and $250, meaning the average first-year fees would be about $5 per month, according to the estimates in the plan.
The fees would not appear on bills until early 2014, Harvey said, and they would be listed clearly as replacement fees that would go directly into a fund that could only be drawn upon to make water and sewer line updates. The fees also would cover the costs of street repairs, valves, hydrants and meters that often accompany line repairs and replacements.
"It will be separately itemized on the water bills so folks would know what this money is being set aside for -- it's not just being buried or hidden in the regular rate," Keyes said. "It's ultimately a long-term investment in the infrastructure of the city and we want to be transparent about it."
Keyes and Harvey, who have been researching options and revising the water and sewer infrastructure replacement strategic plan since last May, noted that such fees aren't exclusive to Bexley. Their research included studying the funding options in place in other cities.
In addition to a clean river surcharge, Columbus users pay a fee in excess of 20 percent of each bill to the storm water utility fund. In Gahanna, a flat fee of $12 per quarter goes to the storm water utility while another $7.03 is charged per CFU to fund capital improvements. Reynoldsburg charges $6 per quarter for storm water utility.
The next two readings of the ordinance are scheduled for the May 28 and June 11 council meetings, which begin at 5:45 p.m. at City Hall. Keyes said a vote on the ordinance is expected at the June 11 meeting.