Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic has given council two weeks to consider his proposal to move forward with a combined sewer and overflow project that could increase the average sewage bill by 68 percent starting in March.
With local government advocacy organizations in his corner, Plusquellic met with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials in December to discuss an “integrated plan” that aims to lower project and usage costs by implementing green infrastructure, new technology and applies minimum costs — or “an affordability component” — set by the federal government.
The affordability component calls for a yearly rate increase of more than 2 percent of Akron’s five-year median household income, or $33,598. Plusquellic’s plan adds a dollar to that rate to ensure that users are contributing more than the federally set mandate.
What that means for the average user is that rates beginning in February, and appearing on March bills, could jump from $34 a month to $57 a month.
The additional revenue would be set aside and used to continue projects already approved by the state and federal governments. The money also would allow the city to continue the engineering, design and planning necessary to bid projects and calculate an overall cost for the integrated plan.
Lastly, additional revenue would support the construction of a combined sewer overflow project, which — among other measures — calls for the creation of an underground tunnel — 27 feet wide and a mile long — and large basins to catch storm water that could otherwise mix with sewage and spill into rivers.
Plusquellic said the proposed rate increase is much less than what some council members told constituents over the summer. He also said that rates would not increase under this payment structure unless the median household income in the city went up.
County and city residents, along with residents of nine surrounding communities that use Akron’s sewage or treatment facilities, would be affected by the rate hike.
Akron has asked a federal appeals court to overturn a decision from U.S. District Judge John Adams. He had ruled that Akron’s plan to address stormwater runoff was not moving quickly enough.
Plusquellic argued Monday that shortening the project construction time and adhering to other federal mandates, like the “impossible” notion of eliminating 100 percent of effluent, would add millions of dollars to the now $1.4 billion project.
Instead of that plan, Plusquellic said council’s approval of the integrated plan would “call the federal government’s bluff.”
Bob Hoch, Ward 6 councilman and Public Utilities Committee chair, said council would relay its questions for Plusquellic’s office by some time today.
A vote on the integrated plan could be made when council meets Jan. 27.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.