LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS / University Heights City Council meeting highlights [online 5-23-2016]
May 23, 2016
- Special meeting to address water service transitions costs
- Public comments
All council members were present.
Special meeting to address water service transitions costs
The meeting’s purpose was to address a proposed expenditure of $319,699 from the sewer fund to underwrite part of the transition costs for the University Heights residents who are currently customers of the Cleveland Heights water department, as the Cleveland Heights system transfers to the City of Cleveland water system. University Heights would pay 30 percent of a 10–year transition fee.
Alex Margevicius, commissioner of Cleveland Water, provided some details on the transition and Cleveland’s water service.
A total of 747 University Heights homes are being transitioned. Of those households, 38 are currently using the Cleveland Heights Homestead program, and all will be transferred to the Cleveland Homestead program. The second program for reducing costs is the Affordability Program, which is purely income-based. This option was not available in Cleveland Heights, and it is unknown how many of the 747 homes will apply for this program.
Estimated meter readings usually occur when the radio signal can’t be read. Of the 747 homes, 92 percent received an actual reading for all 15 months, and 95 percent received an actual read for 14 of 15 months.
The bill is estimated based on the similar period one year ago. When the water company changes out a meter, they do the “take-out” reading on the old meter, and then use the reading from the new meter for the remainder of the time period. If the meter reading seems inaccurate, they will get the reading from the inside meter if possible and then use the lower of the two readings. All things being equal, the bills for all 747 homes will be lower even with the transition cost added in. Cleveland has switched to a newer radio reading system that is much more accurate than the original system, which was installed 30 years ago. The Cleveland Water Department learned a great deal from their billing errors of 2009, and is now erring in favor of the customers if they have any doubts.
A full breakdown of the costs was provided to council. One of the larger costs was to create a detailed map of the full water system, which was not kept by Cleveland Heights. They will need to locate all of the pipes and cut-off valves to create an accurate mapping of the system.
Margevicius noted that five of the 70 connection points—the points at which the water system will be linked to neighboring communities—are located in University Heights.
Because some commercial entities in Cleveland Heights have very high water usage, transition costs are pro-rated based on usage in order to apply costs more equitably toward the large users. If the cost were strictly applied per user, it would be much higher for residential customers.
Phillip Luschek of Washington Boulevard claimed that the majority of the households affected seem to be on low or fixed income and shouldn’t be burdened with these costs. He would prefer to pay the $319,699 to the law director to fight this “money grab.” Luschek said that a change in gas or electric provider does not entail transition costs and that Cleveland Water should pay the expense, and complained about lack of communication from Cleveland Heights.
University Heights resident Justin Gould noted that University Heights is the only community in which only a portion of the residents are impacted. Gould said that the city’s responsibility is to provide clean, safe water and oversee agreements between providers and the community. He feels that the costs are related to public works and that it was not appropriate to bill citizens. Gould asked why they were bailing out Cleveland Heights, which [he purports] has, for many years, kept all of the profits from maintaining their own water system, but are now allocating the costs to everyone?
Mayor Susan Infeld noted that the northwest quadrant of University Heights was originally part of Cleveland Heights. When the Silsby brothers decided to separate from Cleveland Heights and form a new community, they moved the development toward the south and east.
Vice Mayor Susan Pardee commented that she was initially in favor of the proposal, but then became concerned that this constituted a payment of tax revenues to individual homeowners. Now that she has seen the breakdown of all of the costs, she sees more clearly that this is truly a public works project that appropriately would be shared by the city’s sewer fund.
Council approved the payment of $319,699, and a 10–year plan for residents to pay the remaining transition costs. The vote was four in favor, with Councilman Mark Wiseman and Councilwoman Michele Weiss voting no and Councilwoman Pamela Cameron abstaining due to a conflict of interest.
LWV Observer: Wendy Deuring.
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League of Women Voters
Observer Corps editor for the Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland