Mandates and Sewer Rates
Sunday, November 12, 2006
The last thing cash-strapped homeowners and business owners want to
hear is the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District requesting a 9
percent rate increase over the next five years.
Sewer board member Gary Starr, mayor of Middleburg Heights, has
raised good questions about the increase. He wants to make sure that
the district does plenty of belt-tightening on operations and
projects before he supports the increase.
Starr's questions are appreciated. Far too many trustees who
serve on local boards simply go with the flow.
And fortunately, sewer district officials are listening. After
the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association also
complained, sewer board members agreed to delay a vote on the
increases until Dec. 7.
Many of the big projects on the drawing board - and their
expenses - come courtesy of Uncle Sam. The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency rightly demands that Northeast Ohio and other
metropolitan regions reduce the sewage that gets through its
turn-of-the-century sewer plants, through its 100-year-old
pipelines, and gets into the Cuyahoga River, Lake Erie and other
Then Washington wrongly shrugs when the bill comes due. Right
now, the district gets an estimated $30 million a year or so from a
low-cost federal loan program. That's a drop in the bucket when the
long-term projects list ultimately will soar to $2 billion.
The feds must give urban areas increased financial assistance for
these huge jobs. The burden of this unfunded, unfair mandate falls
far too heavily on the district's 330,000 customers in Greater
The sewer district's service area has grown since 1972, even though
its customer base has remained the same and its industrial base has
shrunk, said Erwin Odeal, the district's executive director.
Mindful of this region's lagging economy, the board has tried to
cushion the blow. It recently whittled down its short-term project
list from $819 million to $580 million, saving ratepayers some money
- for now.
And it has decided to spread out the estimated $2 billion in
federally required projects over 30 years, instead of the
EPA-preferred 20 years. The EPA should accept the district's longer
timetable. There's a greater likelihood that the projects will get
done if ratepayers are able to keep pace with the bills.
"Ultimately, the only way out is some kind of federal
participation," said Odeal. The new Democratic majority in Congress
should hear that plea - and write a big check.