Pickerington residents, who pay some of the highest monthly sanitary sewer rates in central Ohio, soon will receive some relief.

Pickerington residents, who pay some of the highest monthly sanitary sewer rates in central Ohio, soon will receive some relief.

Pickerington City Council unanimously approved a resolution April 19 to reduce city monthly sewer rates by $1.64 per 1,000 gallons used beginning May 1.

Under the new fee structure, those who use less than 3,000 gallons a month will pay $25.81. Those who use more than 3,000 gallons a month will pay an additional $8.60 per 1,000 gallons used.

The action reduces the fee of $10.24 per 1,000 gallons that Pickerington sewer-users have paid since Jan. 1. Those using less than 3,000 gallons per month have paid $30.71.

The adjustment, city officials said, came after a review of Pickerington's sewer master plan, completed last year.

That study suggested rates could be reduced because Pickerington has scaled back its planned capital improvement projects.

In 2006, the city planned $15 million in capital improvements through its five-year forecast. For 2012, Pickerington has set aside just $4.4 million for future projects.

"With that study, we were able to determine the projects we were able to move forward with," Pickerington finance director Chris Schornack said. "Our capital improvement plan has changed and been reduced dramatically."

In 2005, Pickerington established a utility rate committee consisting of four city residents and one city council representative to analyze the water and sewer rates at the time.

"This committee reviewed the city's future projects along with the current revenues and expenditures and recommended a five-year rate increase be implemented," Schornack said.

"These rates became effective Jan. 1, 2006, and were equivalent to 19-percent (increases) annually for sewer and 13-percent (increases) annually for water over a five-year period," he said.

The resolution passed April 19 states future sewer rates will increase by 3 percent annually. Future rates, however, will be subject to review; possible increases or decreases could be enacted.

"We wanted to maintain a (sewer) fund balance of roughly 25 (percent) to 30 percent of the (total) sewer fund for emergency projects that might come up," Schornack said.

According to data provided by the city, Pickerington sewer users since Jan. 1 were paying $71.68 per month based on an average of 7,000 gallons used per month.

That was more than 15 central Ohio communities and the city of Athens.

Among those paying less per month were people in Baltimore ($61.30), Canal Winchester ($37.62), Columbus ($36.98), Fairfield County ($54.20), Lancaster ($58.57) and Westerville ($48.48).

Sewer fees paid by residents and businesses fund the city's sewer operations, pay off city debt and finance capital improvement projects.

One reason Pickerington rates have been relatively high, Schornack said, is that the city didn't raise utility charges between 1994 and 2006.

Another reason, he said, was the approximately $12-million expansion to the city's wastewater treatment plant at 525 Hill Road.

The project was completed last summer and increased daily wastewater treatment capacity from 1.6 million gallons to 3.2 million gallons. It will enable the city to take on significant commercial and residential development in coming years, city officials have said.

"We (only) have so many customers and the customers share the burden of the new system and new capacity put on (the wastewater treatment plant)," Schornack said. "They're still going to be receiving a high-quality product and we're still going to be making improvements to the system."

City water rates won't be affected by the resolution.

Effective Jan. 1, Pickerington residents and businesses monthly pay $31.94 per 7,000 gallons used -- or $4.57 per 1,000 gallons used -- for water services.