Water rates could go up in Lordstown

Changes at GM prompt consideration

LORDSTOWN — Shortfalls in the Village Water Department’s income, caused mainly by cutbacks at the local General Motors plant, has moved the Board of Public Affairs to consider increasing the per 1,000 gallon rate by at least 10 cents for Lordstown water customers.

“The water department has had a deficit for the last couple years,” Kevin Campbell, chairman of the Board of Public Affairs, said. “There are many things affecting the budget, but the biggest has been the reduced water sales to the General Motors plant.”

The deficit has increased from $45,000 to $140,000 in 2017.

The Board of Public Affairs is scheduled to vote on a possible rate increase at 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to Campbell. If approved, this would be the second water rate increase in a year.

“Last year, the city of Niles raised our rates by 55 cents per 1,000 gallons, so we passed that increase, and a smaller amount to address the deficit on to our customers,” he said. “The increase did not stop the increase in our shortfall.”

The Lordstown Board of Public Affairs, which oversees the water department, consists of Michael Sullivan, Tom Dietz and Campbell.

Since General Motors eliminated the third shift at the Lordstown plant and has had longer periods of shutdown, water sales have dropped. That climate isn’t going to improve because the Lordstown plant, the water department’s biggest customer, last week announced it will be cutting its second shift.

“We might have to talk about a larger increase due to GM’s announcement on Friday,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know where the dime (increase) came from. There were discussions — based on consultant recommendations — that the increase should be 35 cents per 1,000 gallons.”

If a rate increase is not implemented, Sullivan said the village could take some of its multimillion dollar rainy day fund to address the deficit this year. This would provide time to see if other projects would lessen the shortfall, he said.

Even if the proposed 10-cents-per-1,000-gallon rate passes and the village begins collecting it in July, Campbell said the board estimates the increase would raise only between $40,000 to $45,000 per year.

The village is looking at ways to reduce spending, including a complete inventory of department vehicles and other equipment to determine the cost effectiveness of replacement or repair.

“We looked at this from every angle before recommending the increase,” Campbell said.

While village officials are expecting to see some increased water revenue with the opening of Lordstown Energy Center, Campbell said it is too early to tell if the amount of water sold to the energy plant will be enough to offset General Motors’ usage decrease.

“Waiting another year for the energy plant to come fully online would allow the shortfall to continue to grow,” Campbell said.

The power plant is expected to use approximately 2.5 million gallons of water a day, although during peak periods the amount sold could be significantly higher.

Councilwoman Karen Jones said she did not know a lot about the proposed increase, but added the department has to operate within its budget.

“It is a separate department that does not receive tax dollars,” she said. “Its income comes from water sales.”

Jones said she has talked to residents who are not happy about having to pay more for water.

While stating neither the council nor his administration has a say on whether there will be a rate increase, Mayor Arno Hill said once the power plant is operational, the deficit could begin to shrink.