CUYAHOGA FALLS — As council unanimously signed off on the 2020 budget Monday night, the finance committee chair offered thoughts on the utility rate increases that were recently approved on a party line vote.

Meanwhile, another council member expressed concern for how the increases may affect some residents’ budgets.

Council on Nov. 25 voted 6-5 to increase both the electric and water rates, and 10-1 to increase the storm drainage utility rate. The electric and water rate increases were approved by the six Democratic members and opposed by the five Republican members. The storm drainage utility rate hike was opposed by Councilman Adam Miller (R-6).

All of the rate increases will take effect Jan. 1.

Councilman  Tim Gorbach (D-At Large), which is the finance committee chairman, on Monday said these increases mean the electric, water and stormwater funds will each receive about $700,000 more annually. One of the projects the water rate increase will help pay for is the painting of the Bolich Water Tank, according to Gorbach. The city is planning to do about $1.6 million in water capital projects in 2020. The electric rate increase will help pay for construction of a second delivery point for power. During the next five years, the city is planning an average of $2.5 million per year in electric capital projects. The storm drainage utility rate increase would aid in paying for projects such as North Hidden Valley Pond repair, the Silver Lake Boulevard and Norma Street/Prange Drive intersection, and the Woodward Creek clean out, said Gorbach.

“It is incumbent on city council and this administration to maintain this important infrastructure in order to continue providing uninterrupted electric and water service to each home and manage much needed storm water concerns,” said Gorbach. “That is precisely what these increases will allow. I am proud of the members of council that took this role seriously by voting for these essential increases and looking to keep Cuyahoga Falls an attractive and safe place to live and work for not only our present families, but also for our future generations.”

After Monday’s meeting, Councilwoman Mary Ellen Pyke (R-2) told the Falls News-Press she was “frustrated when the chair of finance [Gorbach] makes a comment saying how he appreciates those members of council who voted in favor of the utility rate [increases] when, as a member who voted against it, my concerns are for those people that basically cannot afford it.”

When city officials discussed how much the water rate changes would increase the average household bill, Pyke said she thought the administration should’ve provided numbers on how the hike would impact a family of four. Pyke added she was concerned because residents will also see an increased property tax bill to pay for the Cuyahoga Falls City School District levy that was approved in November. The levy will cost homeowners $344 per $100,000 of their home’s value each year.

A look at the rate increases

The city is implementing an increase in the electric charges that averages 2.9% each year for the next three years across all nine rate classes. The percentage increase varies from 1.3% to 3.4% across the various rate classes. The vast majority of residential customers will have a 2.4% increase in 2020, a 2.3% increase in 2021 and a 2.4% hike in 2022. The residential customer charge will increase by $1.90 per month in 2020.

City spokeswoman Kelli Crawford-Smith said the average water consumption of all residential customers is 6 units of water or less per month. For the customer that is consuming 6 units in a month, the approved water rate increase will cost $2.14 more per month.

The monthly storm drainage utility rate will increase from $3 to $5 per unit starting in 2020.

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