POMEROY — Residents and business owners from the village of Rutland met with the Meigs County Commissioners last week to discuss the current water and sewer rates, as well as plans moving forward with the system.
Before hearing from the residents, Commissioners Mike Bartrum and Tim Ihle gave the group of around 20 individuals a brief history of how things got to where they are now and a look at the future plans for the failing sewer system.
Bartrum explained that things were in a bad situation when the county became involved with the system back in 2012, and acknowledged that there has not been much conversation between the commissioners and the residents since that time. He assured those in attendance that work is going on to secure grant funding and the necessary loans to replace the grinder pump system that is currently in place in the village.
The commissioners, with the help of numerous other agencies, have worked to secure more than $2 million in grant funding to go toward the new system for the village.
When the commissioners acquired the system it was approximately $600,000 in debt, explained Ihle. In the first year the county had the system an additional $300,000 was advanced from the county general fund into what became known as the Meigs County Water and Sewer District. That money, explained Ihle, has to go back to county general where it originally came from. Much of the advance was for parts and supplies to operate the failing system.
One of the residents asked if the debt was something that should have been paid off by now, as the original loan was taken out more than 25 years ago. Ihle said that he did not know for sure when the original date to have the loan paid was, but simply that it was not paid as it was scheduled.
Business owner Bill Stewart explained that he has been there for the past 20 years and over the past two to three years things have not been good. Stewart said business has been down, and that local residents come in and complain about the increase in the rates.
A minimum bill for a customer with both water and sewer service in the village is $119.
Residents in attendance expressed concerns over the rate, and possible future increases, particularly for those on a fixed income.
Bartrum explained that the commissioners have delayed increases to the water and sewer bills as much as possible, but that the state has laid out a 10 year plan for the water and sewer systems which require that specific increases be put in place in order to maintain the system and hopefully pay down the debt.
The rates come directly from that plan, which was something that took time to develop, said Ihle. He told those in attendance that when the county took over the system there was no financial records or books to indicate what the rates had been, past increases or other financial information on the operation of the system. Given that they only had the information on who had current accounts and at what rates, billing was maintained at the same rate for one year to allow for data to be collected to complete the rate study.
With the rates, as well as other situations in the village, people avoid moving into the village and/or are moving out of town, explained the residents.
Resident Charlie Williams asked the commissioners about the basing of sewer fees off of the amount of water used as not all water used in going into the sewer system to be treated.
The commissioners explained that they can calculate for the filling of swimming pools, as well as water leaks, as that water is not treated, but that it would not be possible to determine the amount of water treated each month.
Both Ihle and Bartrum told those in attendance that they are welcome to come to the commissioners office to look at the 10 year asset management plans which are in place. Additionally, the rate plans which are included in the asset management plan will be copied and mailed out in the next billing.
The new system which is being planned is expected to take less to run, meaning that additional funds will be able to go toward paying off the debt that is owed currently. The system that is being planned for the village is similar to what is used in rural areas out west, which is similar to a septic tank system in which only the liquid is pumped from the tank. Then, as part of routine maintenance the tank would be pumped. The system would also use less electricity than the current system.
Ihle explained that they are making sure a new system would not be set up for failure.
Public meetings with the planning agencies will be held as plans get closer to moving forward for the system.