The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

March 20, 2014

Water-related revenue drying up in Conneaut

CONNEAUT — Water isn’t flowing through meters like it used to in Conneaut, and the trickle is hurting the city’s bottom line, officials said.

Administrators don’t plan to replace an employee in the water distribution department when he retires, a decision made necessary by a drop in water-related revenue, administrators said this week.

Water usage in town is down by 100,000 gallons compared to last year, causing a major ripple effect in budgets. Rate increases put into effect to help pay for water tower upgrades are not meeting projections because consumption is down.

“The rate hikes haven’t raised money to pay for the towers,” Finance Director John Williams told City Council this week. “We’re not seeing additional collections.”

City administrators are counting on water rate increases to help pay for the new water tower constructed late last year on Creek Road, as well as repairs and new paint to the Brown Avenue tower.

One-third of the city’s water customers use less than the entry-level rate on the billing scale, Williams said. Industrial customers, usually the town’s big-ticket water-users, are also scaling back, he said.

“Some industries are not using as much,” Williams said. “We’re not seeing the consumption, especially industrial consumption.”

A 3 percent rate increase went into effect for 2014, and the first collections based on that new rate will be firmed up soon, Williams said. The numbers will provide a truer picture of water usage, he said.

“We’ll see at the end of this month if the 3 percent has generated any (additional) revenue,” Williams said.

Another drain on water revenue is the automatic water meters installed during 2009-2010. At the time, proponents of the devices said they would track water usage more accurately than their mechanical counterparts, and the result would be a 20 percent or more boost in revenue, officials were told at the time.

More than 4,600 meters were installed at a cost of $1.3 million. The city borrowed the money with the intention of recouping the expense over time via the promised boost in water revenue.

That’s hasn’t materialized, Williams told council. “We’re not seeing the increase in revenue needed to pay for the meters,” he said.

Instead, the city has had to pull $250,000 from the budget to help make loan payments, Williams said.

The meters do have their good points, Williams said: they are much easier and quicker to read, allowing a worker to track the entire city in a much shorter timespan. However, their ability to raise money has so far been underwhelming, he said.

“We didn’t see a 30 percent return,” Williams said.

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