Proposal would increase water bills for Niles residents

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NILES, Ohio (WYTV) – Turmoil over money issues in Niles continued to unravel Wednesday as Mayor Tom Scarnecchia suggested to not only raise the water rates, but the naming rights to the wellness center as well.

Questions about water rate hikes and how money from the general fund is being used carried over from Tuesday night’s finance meeting.

“We’ve had three recovery plans and we still don’t have a workable recovery plan. It’s unbelievable,” said Wanda Burns, a Niles resident.

Residents could potentially see two increases on their monthly water bill, all in the hopes of getting the city out of fiscal emergency.

“Whatever we do, we have to do the right thing. If we can even get it to break even,” Scarnecchia said.

Proposed water rate hike:

  • Extra 15 cents per 100 cubic feet of water
    • Charge goes up from $2.98 to $3.13 per cubic feet
  • Average family of four uses 12,000 gallons of water per month (1,600 cubic feet), according to the Environmental Protection Agency
    • Would cost average family of four an extra $2.40 a month (almost $30 a year)

The extra money would be used for operational expenses at the water department. Scarnecchia also wants to tack on an extra $5 to $10 flat rate for capital improvements.

“Two decades since anything has really been done with the infrastructure. We were reactive, not proactive,” said Waste Water Superintendent Andy Catanzarite.

Meanwhile, the wellness center and the unused pool at Waddell Park were also hot topics of debate Wednesday night. The City of Niles could ask companies to bid on leasing the center from the city.

“The wellness center needs $26,000 to keep running and $13,000, I believe, to pay for the lights and we don’t know where we’re gonna get it?” Julie Edwards, a resident, questioned.

Breakdown of wellness center expenses:

  • Niles pays $240,000 annually ($20,000 a month) bond for the wellness center
  • City officials discussed transferring $39,000 from general fund, which includes:
    • $13,000 to cover a loan payment for a lighting project
    • $26,000 for labor costs
  • Scarnecchia claims the center cost the city about $1 million in supplement operations over the past eight years

Scarneccia revealed the pool probably won’t be able to open next summer, but said plans to open a less costly splash pad might be in the works. This was a surprise to council.

“A splash pad is great, I’ve said that too, but until we do, we made a promise and that pool should be open this summer,” said Councilwoman Linda Marchese.

The biggest move of the night came near the end of the meeting when council made a motion to write legislation abolishing the wellness center’s advisory board, which would allow council to oversee the center.

Regarding repairs to the Niles City Hall building, council said work on the roof began this week. The roof had been leaking, causing a mold problem inside the building.

Once the roof is done, workers will address the mold issue by putting up plaster and painting.

If the weather cooperates, the roof should be finished in two weeks. Workers hope to be back at city hall by January 1.