Whitehall floats surcharge to pay for repairs to water mains, sewers

Gary Seman Jr.
ThisWeek group
The Whitehall Municipal Building is at 360 S. Yearling Road.

The city of Whitehall has a plan to fix its crumbling water mains and sewer system, but it would cost an extra $7.52 a month per single-family home.

Zach Woodruff, Whitehall’s director of public service and development, and Megan Meyer, the city’s public-information officer, made a May 11 presentation supporting the surcharge to Whitehall City Council, which must approve the fee.

Residents will have ample time to weigh in, as council isn’t expected to take action until this summer. Phase 1 of the charges would not start until July 2022, with the full portion being implemented in January 2023.

The fee, which would generate $1.125 million a year – $750,000 in water and $375,000 in sewer – would be dedicated to infrastructure improvements in the city, Woodruff said.

The calculations are based on a 5/8-inch residential water connection, Meyer said.

Businesses and apartment complexes with larger and multiple connections would pay more based on meter size, she said.

Woodruff said Whitehall is one of the few central Ohio suburbs that does not have a surcharge for water and sewer maintenance. The average single-family Whitehall residence now pays $33 a month for water distribution and $31.57 for sewer services provided by the city of Columbus.

The surcharge would put Whitehall pretty much in the middle of local municipalities in terms of single-family-house payments, at $72.09, with Grove City paying the least ($68.16) and Marble Cliff paying the most ($78.47), according to the presentation.

Woodruff said the cards are stacked against the Whitehall: The infrastructure is in such poor condition, it would cost more to delay action than spend the money now to make the water-supply and sewers remain safe, he said.

The city has had 621 water-main breaks since 2011, according to Woodruff.

In its contract with Columbus, Whitehall can have a maximum of 15 breaks in a year. So, in renewing its ongoing contract with Columbus, Whitehall must provide a remediation plan, Woodruff said.

Meyer said the issue is longstanding, as most of the lines are 50 to 70 years old and most have had little attention, other than patchwork, during that time.

The city uses some capital-improvements dollars on replacement and repair, but there isn’t enough money to pay for all of the street and bridge repairs, park maintenance and other projects with CIP money, Meyer said.

When residents approved an income-tax increase in 2011, $3. -million of the revenue was set aside for the 15-year, Ohio EPA-approved inflow- and infiltration-reduction program.

As proposed, the sewer portion of the surcharge would fund inspections, improvements and replacements above and beyond that program, Woodruff said.

Whitehall resident and community watchdog Lenora Miller said she wants to see equitable charges across the citizenry and worries about people on a low fixed income.

“I understand that we have very old infrastructure and everything needs to be repaired with time,” Miller said. “And I think I would be comfortable with (the fee). But I want to make sure everyone pays their fair share, and people with rental properties pay their fair share, as well, and that residents of low-income housing can afford it.”

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary