Lordstown must stand strong on bill

What would happen if, as a utility user, you suddenly received a bill in the mail for increased rates on the utilities you used and paid for three years ago?

Odds are you either would laugh at the absurdity and toss the bill in the trash, or you would go on a rampage, calling on the utility provider to demand an explanation. Either way, we suspect the bill never would get paid.

That’s exactly what is going on right now, but on a much larger scale, when the city of Warren recently sent an invoice for some $400,000 to the village of Lordstown demanding back payment for the village’s sewage that Warren treated and disposed of in 2016, 2017, 2018 and the first three months of 2019.

Edward Haller, head of Warren’s Water Pollution Control Department, sent a letter in May to Lordstown requesting $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.

Previously, the village was getting a bill of about $24,000 per month.

The rate Warren now wants from the village is $2.61 per 100 cubic feet processed — more than double the rate of $1.03 it last paid.

Lordstown’s legal counsel Paul Dutton called the hike “egregious.”

But Haller says the city actually did the village a favor because it didn’t enact the higher rate until a new agreement was signed with the county.

Haller said a 2016 contract signed between the city and the village states the village must pay the city the same rate Trumbull County is billed for the sewage treatment service.

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 Dutton says 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 believes Lordstown officials are looking at an old, expired contract.

At this point, figuring out which contract is correct shouldn’t be that difficult. After that is determined, it appears there may be lots to dispute.

For now, it seems illogical for Warren officials even to think that shipping off a bill like this to a good neighbor and longtime customer would be a good idea by any stretch — and to surprise Lordstown with the bill is even worse.

Egregious? We agree.

This is an appropriate time for Lordstown to stand its ground.