Warren bills Lordstown for $400,000 for past sewer treatment

Village disputes city’s claim

WARREN — In an “egregious” move, the city of Warren wants the village of Lordstown to pay more for sewer treatment services it received in 2016, 2017, 2018 and part of 2019 — and wants to raise the rates going forward to match the recent increase the city won against the county.

Lordstown has two sewer districts — one on the west side and one on the east side.

Trumbull County bills Lordstown for the flow coming from the west side at a rate determined by the Trumbull County Metropolitan Sewer District. Warren bills the village itself for the sewage on the east side.

Edward Haller, head of Warren’s Water Pollution Control Department, said a 2016 contract signed between the city and the village states the village must pay the city the same rate as the city bills the county.

The city and county went to court earlier this year over failed negotiations to reach a rate agreement after a contract expired at the end of 2017. After mediation, the two sides entered a new agreement — one that is estimated to cost the county an extra $1.68 million per year.

Once that agreement for the new rate was reached, as a part of the deal, Warren billed the county for the cost of 2018 services at the new rate, instead of the old rate.

Haller said Warren now wants Lordstown to honor the same principle.

“Lordstown has a separate agreement with us, a simple agreement; it says that they pay whatever the county pays,” Haller said.

The contract Haller sent to the Tribune Chronicle states the village will be billed “at a rate as determined by the calculations contained in the master meter agreement between the city and the Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer’s Office for their Lordstown Satellite Sewer.”

But Paul Dutton, village solicitor, said the contract he has states Warren has to warn them of any rate changes by March each year and the contract does not allow for any type of back payment.

Haller said village officials are looking at an old, expired contract.

It is unclear from reading the five-year contract Haller provided — that appears to have the signatures of Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill and clerk William Blank — if the city is required to give the village notice of a rate change or if they can back bill. When it comes to billing, the contract simply states the city can charge the village the rate determined in the agreement between the city and the county sanitary sewer agreement.

Haller sent a letter in May asking for $333,296 in “true up” payments for 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 through March, plus an additional $65,000 for the month of April.

“This new sewage rate is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018. A separate invoice is also enclosed that includes the catch-up payments for the period of Jan. 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019,” the letter states. “Under the previous master meter agreement, the county was also required to pay the difference between the estimated and actual costs incurred for each year. This is called a true-up payment. Similarly, the village of Lordstown is required to pay true ups. Attached you will also find an invoice for the true-up payments for 2016 and 2017.”

In the contract Haller provided, the Tribune Chronicle found no mention of true-up payments or how to handle back charges.

Dutton said the village was getting a bill of about $24,000 per month before.

The rate the city wants from the village is $2.61 per 100 cubic feet processed, more than doubling the rate of $1.0327 it last paid.

“It is egregious,” Dutton said.

Haller said the city did the village a favor by not billing them at a higher rate until the new agreement with the county was signed.

“It would have been fair to start charging them the city’s outside rate from the beginning, as soon as the county contract expired,” Haller said. “The village signed this ‘me too’ agreement.”

Hill said Haller is looking to raise rates on someone besides Warren residents to pay for improvements to the Warren treatment plant.

“We want to know how they can justify these rates. We want Haller to justify his methodology, and he has not done that yet,” Hill said, calling for a meeting with the city to discuss the issue.

Haller said a 2010 rate study determined what rates the city would need, and that is how he justifies the raises. Haller said while there are no immediate plans to raise the rates in Warren, it may happen next year.

The mayor of Warren is up for re-election this year.

Mayor Doug Franklin is running against independent and former Republican Randy Law.

Haller said a judge ordered the settlement between the city and county and that it was “beyond his control.” But while there are reports Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald J. Rice said the two sides of the dispute couldn’t leave a courtroom until they reached the agreement, negotiations were ongoing for months before that, and the judge did not set the parameters of the agreement, according to numerous previous statements made to the Tribune Chronicle.