Note: This story appears in the Dec. 1, 2019 newspaper on Page A1.
Several Athens City Council committees met Monday evening to discuss introducing legislation to limit firearm use within the city and increasing sewer rates, among other agenda items.
City Engineer and Director of Public Works Robert Heady spoke before a committee of the whole council about sewer rates, noting that the proposal of an 8 percent increase would help cover debts as well as the costs to run the wastewater plant.
“Since I’ve been here about a year and a half, I’ve realized how far a dollar will go,” Heady said. “Last year we had a break out here on College Street, had a collapse of a sewer that we fought from February clear into March. It cost us a little over $30,000.”
That amounts to the whole year’s budget for maintenance of sewers in the city.
“That recent repair we believe we could have been able to stop, lessen the blow or repair it quicker had we had some appropriate equipment,” Heady explained.
He noted the department is maintaining a 1990 sewer vacuum truck that cost $116,000 at the time the city purchased it. Heady said the replacement vehicle would be almost $400,000, but a new truck will soon be needed.
“This 8 percent increase would generate approximately $147,000,” Heady said. “A 3 percent increase in wages to our staff would take $45,000 of that, so it would actually be $102,000.”
He noted the proposed purchases would eat up the extra funds “quickly.” He called for a reinvestment in the sewer system to allow better maintenance and service to city residents.
Council member Jeffrey Risner noted that revenues have lowered, mostly due to conservation measures done by local businesses. One of the largest companies to impact the city is Ohio University, which Heady said is the city’s biggest water and sewer customer. With lower enrollment, less individuals are using water and sewer on campus, and thus OU has been paying less to the city.
“I’m wondering if maybe we should look at a different model of rate increases,” Risner said. “So instead of 8 percent this year, it would be more like 1 or 2 percent.”
Heady said he agreed with the concept Risner proposed, but deferred maintenance in the sewer lines was requiring the rise in prices. In the end, the committee agreed to bring the proposed fee increase before the full council for a vote.
The City and Safety Services Committee discussed possibly restricting use of firearms within city limits, maintaining a firm stance against the use of such items inside the city.
If adopted, the new legislation would echo state regulations, according to council member Sarah Grace, who sits on the committee. The goal of the new regulations would be to prevent possible liability of the city in court cases. She also said that it is “unreasonable” for guns to be fired inside the city of Athens.
During the same committee meeting, a discussion on disposing firearms from the Athens Police Department was also held. APD is in the process of purchasing new firearms and implementing them on the force, costing $10,000 to the city.
Council member and chair of the City and Safety Services committee Kent Butler noted 37 guns will be traded in as part of the purchase, for the most part, with a total of 41 to be removed from service at the department as some of the weapons will be disposed of.
Sara Marrs-Maxfield, executive director of the Athens County Economic Development Council, provided an update on activities of the county, as well as information on prospective activities in 2020.
She noted that the ACEDC had secured over $3 million in state and federal dollars over the course of the year, which went to funding companies and businesses in the county. The funding was used for infrastructure improvements that were needed to either retain or create jobs.
$1.3 million of that was from JobsOhio, another million can be accredited to tax credits, and the last $228,805 was from an Ohio Department of Transportation 629 grant.
She highlighted the historic Stewart MacDonald building and resident business, which has created 19 new, full-time jobs, retained 47 jobs, and created an impact of over $21 million.