City council passes first reading of sewage rate increase

The average Huntington resident will likely see sewage bills increase by some $5 early next year.

That's how much a 14 percent rate increase would cost someone who uses the residential average of 4,000 gallons of city water each month, members of the Huntington Common Council learned on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

The council voted 4-3 to approve on first reading the sewage rate increase of up to 14 percent. The additional revenue generated by the higher rate will be used to pay for the next phase of a state-mandated project to stop raw sewage from flowing into area streams. This phase of the project includes separating stormwater lines and sewage lines in the Frederick Street area.

The new sewage rate must be approved again on second reading before it becomes effective. City residents would see the increase on bills received for the first billing period after a second favorable vote, which could come as early as Dec. 26.

Councilman Greg Davis, who joined councilmen Jim Long and Wayne Powell in voting against the increase, said some industries, as well as residents, might decide to move out of Huntington rather than pay the higher fees.

Councilman Charles Chapman countered that the city has no choice but to raise the rates to pay for improvements to its sewage treatment system. State and federal mandates dictate the completion of the project, which Chapman noted has been put off for a decade or more.

"Should we stand back and do nothing and take the fine?" Chapman asked.

"I agree that we have to do the project," Councilman Jack Slusser said. If the city doesn't improve its infrastructure, he added, it won't be able to support any industry.

In other business:

- Jane Herzog, a resident of Riverview Terrace on Frederick Street, asked the council to reconsider a proposal to place a public walking trail at the edge of the housing complex. The trail would be part of a proposed River Greenway, extending roughly from Elmwood Park to Frederick Street.

"When we saw your proposal for a trail, everyone panicked," Herzog said. "We do not want a trail that intersects the paths that we walk on."

Herzog said Riverview Terrace residents are concerned that the trail would mean a loss of privacy and safety.

"Do not put that trail anywhere near our apartments," she said.

- Council members approved on first reading the combination of the street, sanitation, garage and parks and recreation departments into one department known as the city services department. The newly formed department will have one superintendent, with assistant superintendents for the street department and the parks and recreation department.

- A property at 1500 Etna Avenue, owned by James and Linda Schroeder, was rezoned from R-1 (low density residential) to B-2 (business). The change had been recommended by the Huntington Plan Commission.

The building was originally a dairy and most recently housed a print shop.

- Council approved Main Street Huntington grants to owners of two downtown buildings for facade improvements. Helga Johnson received a $5,767.50 grant to help pay for a $36,000 improvement project for a building at 426 N. Jefferson St. Mettler Agency Inc. received a $2,932.50 grant to help pay for a $5,865 project at 616 and 612 N. Jefferson St.

- The council approved a $75,000 payment for 2013 to Huntington County United Economic Development to fund county-wide economic development efforts. HCUED also receives financial support from the Huntington County Commissioners and the town councils of Andrews, Roanoke, Markle and Warren.

HCUED Executive Director Mark Wickersham says he fielded 44 inquiries from companies so far this year, resulting in eight projects with more than $17 million in capital investments coming to Huntington County.