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Concerns voiced to JT borough council regarding sewage rates

Published March 20. 2012 05:01PM

At the recent Jim Thorpe Borough Council meeting, residents voiced questions and concerns regarding a recent change to the rates for sewer.

In December 2011, council voted to approve an ordinance that updated the sewer rates to be based on a water consumption rate.

Many questions and concerns were brought up by residents regarding the change in the rates. This generated much discussion at the borough meeting.

The sewer rate before the change was a flat rate of $35.20 for everyone.

With the new sewage ordinance, there is a base rate of $28.45 for the first 1,000 gallons of water used. The new sewage rates are based off of a consumption rate for water. After the initial base rate, certain charges are added per each additional 1,000 gallons of water used after the first 1,000 gallons.

Jim Thorpe Borough utilizes water meters to measure water consumption, except certain properties that use a well.

One concern a few residents brought up was regarding people filling their pool, washing their cars, watering flowers, etc...

Borough Manager Wesley Johnson talked about how people could put a deduct meter on their hose tip. A deduct meter would measure the water that isn't going in the sewer and that can be deducted from the usage.

Also, residents who utilize water from a well are charged at a rate of 3,000 gallons of water. On average, the water used per household is 4,000 gallons. If residents using a well feel they are using less than 3,000 gallons they can contact the borough about getting a meter.

A resident asked if the changes in the sewer rates were a result of repairs that needed to be done to the waste water treatment plant (sewage plant).

"We're currently embarked on a program where we are going to do $160,000 worth of work required to eliminate overflow event at the plant," stated Johnson.

A study about maintenance projects was conducted by the borough engineer, Entech Inc. Other maintenance that needs to be done on the waste water treatment plant will cost around $1.2 million.

Johnson stated that there is $1,010,211.56 in the sewer fund. Repairs will cost around $1.2 million. The sewer billing for a year will come to a total of around $1,100,000. The cost to operate and maintain the water treatment plant for a year is around $900,000. The money from the increases would go to help the sewer fund.

Residents voiced concerns about how they were made aware of the public meeting regarding the vote for the new sewer rate ordinance.

There had been a public notice in the TIMES NEWS about the meeting last December.

Some residents questioned why the call system, a system used to call residents for things such as snow removal days, wasn't used to inform people about the meeting. One resident also asked why anything wasn't sent in the mail regarding the changes.

Council Vice President, Gregory Strubinger, stated that he agreed that the notification of the increase could have been handled differently.

Some residents also voiced concerns about the changes to their sewer bill and how some bills have gone up.

Johnson stated that before the changes were made, everyone paid the same amount whether they used 1,000 gallons of water or 12,000 gallons. With the new ordinance the sewer bills are based on a consumption rate.

"One of the issues we considered was providing a reduction in rates for people on fixed income. That's why the base rate was changed from $35.20 to $28.45," he stated.

He added that this change was an attempt to lessen the burden on households with fixed incomes or households where maybe just one person lives and use less water. He added that this has helped around 300 peoples bills reduce.

He also stated that if the borough were to go back to a flat rate system the bills would need to increase 30-40 percent. This would have made the bills between $45 and $49 for everyone.

Other questions and concerns regarding sewer bill due dates, how the meters measure water consumption, and cost changes were also brought up by residents at the meeting.

Some residents suggested changing the sewer rates back to they were while some suggested measuring the usage differently.

Borough Solicitor, James Nanovic, spoke about the importance of having public comment for residents to express there concerns, "These council people need to hear from you, what your concerns are. This council has the ability, if you don't like what's going on, to change things."

"This was adopted as an ordinance. If we are going to change it, it needs to be changed as an ordinance," he said.

Nanovic stated that with the concerns and comments brought up at the meeting, council will look into the sewer rates. He added this doesn't mean things will change but it means that council will look at the comments and decide whether things could be changed.

He added, "We are not agreeing to anything just yet. We are looking at it. If it's an ordinance change it will take some time."

"They (council) can look at this and maybe some changes are in order," Nanovic added.

Mayor Michael Sofranko stated that he would like to propose to council that they work with residents and discuss the rates.

Sofranko stated that council can sit down with interested residents to come up with ideas and see what can be changed and what can't be.

"We definitely have residents that are concerned about what's going on," he added.

Council President, Betsy Ahner stated, "I welcome anyone to sign up to help us work this out."

Ahner stated that she does not agree with the new rates and has been working on the issue.

"If anyone would like to call and get involved in this, I welcome them. I am still working on this everyday. I won't give up until everyone has a fair rate," she added.

Residents interested in working on the sewer rates with council signed their names on a sign up sheet that went around during the meeting.

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