MUNROE FALLS — City Council this Tuesday is expected to review amended legislation that seeks to increase water rates each year for the next five years.

Council on May 1 gave a first reading to a proposed increase that would take effect Oct. 1. This past Tuesday, Council’s General Government Services Committee reviewed an amendment to the legislation that would have the first rate hike run from Oct. 1, 2018, through Dec. 31, 2019, and then have an additional rate increase occur each year from Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2023.

The proposed increases are based on the recommendation given by the Ohio Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), which was hired by the city to perform a water rate study after the Ohio EPA recommended one. Munroe Falls Mayor James Armstrong told Council he felt implementing RCAP’s complete recommendation might help the city secure funding from the EPA for the water infrastructure projects that the city’s engineer has said are "high priority" items.

Armstrong said he expects this amended proposal to go before City Council for a second reading at this Tuesday’s meeting. The mayor added he anticipates Council will then send the legislation back to the General Government Services Committee and said city officials are hoping to have a public meeting on the water rates proposal some time in June. Armstrong said he will plan to have RCAP and GPD Group officials attend the June meeting to explain why the increases are needed. GPD is the city’s engineer and has given the city a list of recommended water projects that they feel need to be completed in the next five years.

The city of Munroe Falls receives its water through a supplier contract it has with the city of Cuyahoga Falls. Armstrong told the Stow Sentry on Wednesday that the administration is working on adding language to the amended legislation which would say Council may make additional increases to the Munroe Falls water rates if Cuyahoga Falls raises the amount it charges Munroe Falls through the supplier contract. Even with such language in the legislation, he emphasized that Council would still have to vote on any new increases to the rates charged to customers.

"It’s actually a way of just trying to have further transparency," said Armstrong. "We know the rates [charged by Cuyahoga Falls] are going to go up, we just don’t know when and by how much."

Armstrong said Cuyahoga Falls increased the amount it charges to Munroe Falls in 2011, 2012 and 2013 by a total of 31 percent, and those increases were not passed on to Munroe Falls water customers. Munroe Falls has not raised the rates for its water customers in 19 years.

At the moment, Armstrong said, city officials are "looking at a huge increase because [we] didn’t keep up with inflation or the cost to even provide the service based on what [we’re] being charged for the water."

At last Tuesday’s General Government Services Committee meeting, Council President John Hegnauer encouraged city officials to put together a list of bullet points that succinctly explains why the water rate increase is needed, such as listing water infrastructure projects that GPD has recommended that the city do. 

Munroe Falls Service Director Jim Bowery said the EPA wants the city to have an asset management plan for its water system and explain how the city will pay for it and an emergency escrow account.

In its report to Council, RCAP said the rate increase was needed so the city can set aside money for performance monitoring (such as leak detection), preventative and predictive maintenance, capital improvement projects and emergency escrow. RCAP said the increase is also needed so the city can generate revenue to partially fund annual loan payments in 2021 and fully pay for loans in 2022 once the Utility Improvement Capital no longer has a cash balance.

A look at the proposed increases

The current minimum monthly charge for residential customers is $11.46 for residents using 2,000 gallons or less, $11.66 per month for apartment customers using 2,000 gallons or less, and $23.24 a month for commercial customers using 4,000 gallons or less.

Under the legislation examined May 1, the city is looking to set the minimum monthly charge for one- and two-family residences and individually metered water to apartments or condominiums at $20 for an allowance of 2,000 gallons and another $9.35 per each additional 1,000 gallons "or any part thereof," the ordinance stated. For apartment complexes, three or more family residences and condominiums with mastered meter service, the city is proposing to set the minimum monthly charge at $20 per unit or apartment for allowance of 2,000 gallons for each unit or apartment and $9.35 per each additional 1,000 gallons "or any part thereof per unit or apartment," the ordinance stated.

With the amended proposal, those charges would take effect Oct. 1, and be in effect through Dec. 31, 2019. The amended legislation is then proposing to increase the minimum monthly charge for each category of customer to $20.25 in 2020, $22.25 in 2021, $23.25 in 2022 and $23.50 in 2023.

For customers using more than 2,000 gallons in a month, the usage rate charged for each additional 1,000 gallons "or any part thereof" will go up to $9.65 in 2020, $11.40 in 2021, $12.25 in 2022, and $12.75 in 2023.

Council will meet on Tuesday starting at 7 p.m. in Munroe Falls City Hall, 43 Munroe Falls Ave.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.