GIRARD — Mayor James Melfi said he signed the last water contract with the Trumbull County commissioners 20 years ago to provide water to sections of Liberty and Weathersfield — and this year will sign a new 20-year pact to continue the same service.
Melfi told city officials last week the water contract has been discussed for more than a year among city officials and the commissioners.
City council now has approved entering into a contract with the county for providing water and sewer service for a part of Liberty in the county’s service area. The agreements will span Jan. 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2041.
While the commissioners had hoped Girard would lower its water prices to Liberty residents, Girard officials are saying no.
“We held firm on the contract, which has been in place for nearly 60 years. The city has made a lot of investments in that water district at around $2 million, including new water meters, revitalization of the water tank and a new waterline on East Drive. The city of Girard has given those people in those sections of Liberty and Weathersfield the very best service that we can,” Melfi said.
He said some lobbying was done on behalf of the Liberty residents who wanted lower rates.
“My position on this has not changed and will not change. The savings have to start with the citizens of Girard and from there we have a 40 percent surcharge to outlying areas,” Melfi said.
He said if the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, which supplies water to the city, reduces its costs to the residents of Girard, “then we can reduce the cost for the citizens of Liberty and Weathersfield.
“We can’t just cherry pick one area and lower their rates because there are consequences. Our own residents, I am sure, would like a reduction,” Melfi said.
He said the 20-year contract will continue as it has in providing water to outlying areas.
“I hope we do not have to hear about it for another 20 years. I signed the last contract 20 years ago, and I will sign this one,” Melfi said.
The commissioners have approved the utility pacts. About 1,500 residents in Liberty will continue with the rates for the foreseeable future.
The service area agreements, which expired in 2020 and had been extended in a series of bridge agreements, authorize the city to use county waterlines to deliver water to some of its customers outside of the city, and to set rates for the wastewater treatment services the city provides for the county.
Girard charges Liberty water customers $17.35 per 1,000 gallons
That price is the result of several layers of upcharging.
Girard purchases water from multiple sources, such as the MVSD, that charge more to outside buyers. As a result, Girard residents pay $12.39 per 1,000 gallons.
Then, Girard charges customers outside the city limits 40 percent more than what city residents are charged.
Liberty resident Stephen Stoyak has spoken to commissioners, along with other residents, about how the rates can be a burden to homeowners and detrimental to businesses, and could have a negative impact on economic growth in the area.
TIED TO SEWERS
The commissioners’ approval of the contracts came following a recommendation from the Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer’s Office that both agreements be renewed in order to preserve the favorable sewer agreement.
“Any attempt to change the terms of the water agreement could result in a negative consequence on the sewer agreement,” county Sanitary Engineer Gary Newbrough had said.
From 2018 to 2020, Girard has charged the county an average of $1.83 per 1,000 gallons for an average of 503.63 million gallons of sewage per year. While the formula within the existing agreement suggests bulk rates will increase to about $2.43 per 1,000 gallons with the improvements to the Girard water-treatment plant, the terms of the sewer agreement are “fair and equitable to the county,” according to the recommendation, signed by Newbrough as well as the assistant sanitary engineer, controller and sanitary attorney.
“The terms of the sewer agreement benefit over 21,000 customers,” Newbrough has said, adding that the 1,500 Liberty customers affected by high water rates also are among these sewer customers.
Commissioner Frank Fuda has said: “We have to go by our experts, and Gary is our expert.”
Melfi said the agreements essentially are the same contracts the city and county have held for decades, with some “minor changes in language.”
The new water agreement, unlike previous ones, states the county can sell surplus water to the city of Girard “so that the city of Girard has sufficient capacity to provide water services to the Liberty Township service area.”
Officials have said it also allows the city and county mutually to terminate the agreement — in the event that a regional water plan is implemented in Trumbull County or northeast Ohio.
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