City tweaking sewer billing, studying rates
Changes meant for convenience; study necessary as there is no 2018 rate set
City council has authorized a five-year sewer rate study to look at rates as there is no rate set for 2018. The city is also working with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and Cleveland Water to tweak sewer billing to be more convenient for residents and save the city dollars. File photo by JAIME ANTON
NORTH ROYALTON – The city will be conducting a five-year sewer rate study this year and is also working to change its billing to be a bit more convenient for residents.

North Royalton is one of the few cities in northeast Ohio with its own sanitary sewer treatment plant, where on the other hand most municipalities in the area belong to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

Up until now, the NEORSD and the Cleveland Division of Water billed quarterly but moved to monthly billing this year. North Royalton also billed quarterly. The city is working with Cleveland Water to merge its sewer bill into residents’ water bill to create just one monthly bill.

North Royalton is also working with the NEORSD to bill the district’s Stormwater Management Fee quarterly instead of monthly because the bills have been such a nominal amount.

“We are trying to reduce the number of bills for people,” Finance Director Eric Dean said of the intent.

By merging the city sewer bill with Cleveland Water, the city will also realize a cost savings.

Because the city is in the fifth year of its previous sewer rate plan and there is no approved rate set for 2018, on April 18, city council authorized the administration to enter into an agreement with the firm, Raftelis, for $59,000 to study the city’s sewer rates. This is done every five years, the last time being in 2012.

North Royalton has been playing catch up when it comes to sewer rates. From 2000 to 2008, rates were never increased and the wastewater department was operating in a deficit. In fact, rates were lowered in 2001 despite a 20-year loan on the books since 1997 to cover $23 million in mandated EPA upgrades at Plant A.

“The former administration never wanted to address the deficit in the wastewater department, they simply kicked the can down the road,” Mayor Bob Stefanik said.

Rates were raised in 2009, but despite the increase, the department’s revenues dropped. A $2 increase was instituted in 2012 and a rate study performed which determined increases were needed because the wastewater department had been operating in the red and was lacking a fund balance to address aging equipment, emergencies or mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Those last approved increases were: a 28.9 percent increase in 2012 raising one MCF, or 7,500 gallons, from $53 to $68; a 7 percent increase to $72 in 2013; and 4 percent increases in 2014 to $75, $78 in 2015, $81 in 2016 and $84 in 2017.

North Royalton’s MCF rate includes treatment and maintenance of all sanitary sewer lines in the public right of way, unlike the NEORSD which does not include upkeep. Instead an additional cost is incurred for that service in each of those communities, Stefanik pointed out.

The city said it’s time to review rates again.

“Last time the city did the study, it looked at equipment needs and built those into the price. It’s time to do that again, and it will take all those factors into account on what is needed to run the plant,” Dean said.

Stefanik agreed.

“Every five years we do a sewer rate study, the five-year cycle is up at the end of the year. It will look out at the next five years to see what our needs will be, and the money we will need to address those,” he said.

One change he wants to see occur is the removal of the 1 MCF minimum and a more reduced flat rate incorporated.

“Maybe a single elderly person or a snowbird wouldn’t use 1 MCF but for the past 20 years has been billed at the minimum charge, so that’s one of the items we will be discussing,” Stefanik added.