Pataskala City Council members are open to suggestions when it comes to water and sewer rates.

Pataskala City Council members are open to suggestions when it comes to water and sewer rates.

On May 21, City Council heard the first of three readings of an ordinance that would raise water and sewer rates, but council members were clear that far more discussion is necessary before any rates are set, although increases are all but assured.

Council members plan to hold a work session at a date to be determined to address the rates.

The current proposal calls for sewer rates to increase approximately 12 percent in 2013 and then increase approximately 7.5 percent each of the next three years. The current proposal calls for water rates to increase 4 percent in 2013, then 2 percent each year the following three years.

There also would be an additional capital-improvements charge on both water and sewer services: $3 per 1,000 gallons sewer and $1.50 per 1,000 gallons water.

However, Pataskala City Administrator Tim Boland said any discussion of specific increases is "premature" until City Council schedules and convenes a work session.

"I have grave concerns when we're looking at increases that are really out of the park for most of the people of Pataskala," said council member Mike Fox, who also is a utility committee member.

Fox said May 21 that residents "deserve better" than rates that he said could increase bills by 70 to 80 percent, as proposed. He suggested scheduling a council workshop to discuss rates.

Council member Bryan Lenzo agreed.

"It's really important we get this right," he said.

Council member Pat Sagar also is on the utilities committee.

"It's all still under scrutiny," she said. "We're trying to find a happy medium for everyone."

She said in years past, City Council "was kind of remiss" and let the city's water and sewer system slide into disrepair. Sagar said the city then hired Nathan Coey as director of utilities. He began to analyze the city's water and sewer systems.

"We realized we were really in trouble with the rates that were going on," she said. "We knew we had to get busy to bring up the system."

Sagar said the city implemented a tiered billing system that simply didn't work; some customers were hit with huge bills under that system.

Now, she said, council members are making another attempt to develop a billing system that will upgrade the water and sewer equipment but not break the bank for customers.

"We're just trying to get the rates within a reasonable amount," Sagar said.

Mayor Steve Butcher said the city has several issues to address in terms of rate increases.

"Bluntly, we have three different problems here, with number one being we are unfairly treating some businesses in our community with this tiered rate structure put into place last year," Butcher said. "It has not only the potential to put some out of business, but also to deny expansion of some businesses, and it could be a valid reason why some businesses would not choose to locate here."

Second, he said, the cost of operating the sewer and water department is increasing.

"And, (third), our cash reserve is gone after waiting too many years before we raised rates," Butcher said. "The EPA forced us to do millions of dollars of upgrades to our water and sewer operations and this debt must be paid off while our aging infrastructure must be improved.

"I will support any of the options currently being considered by council, but I don't support sticking our heads in the sand and doing nothing."