The city of Akron is currently receiving a $1.2 billion overhaul to its sewer system and residents are not happy. Water bills are rising more than three times what they were because of price hikes to pay for the massive sewer project, which is to stop untreated wastewater from flooding into rivers and streams.
The price is insane: $1.2 billion. The EPA ordered the overhaul to satisfy the Clean Water Act and a federal judge has given the city until 2028 to complete the entire project.
With a price tag of $1.2 billion, you would think the city is receiving grants or funds from the state and federal levels. Think again. Even though the federal mandate dictates plan details, it provides no money — other than low-interest loans. That means the burden in Akron and other cities with aging sewer systems under similar federal mandates — including Canton, Youngstown and Cleveland — falls on ratepayers.
So what exactly is the break of this $1.2 billion overhaul? Up until this point, 20 projects have been completed with nine remaining. The city has borrowed $628 million with an annual interest on debt at $5 million and a cash balance at $101 million. The city began planning this overhaul in 1994 with the federal decree coming through in 2009. All updates and construction must be complete by Oct. 15, 2028.
Rates last increased in 2015 and the mayor of Akron promises to avoid another rate hike only through the end of 2020. At that time, more than $180 million is due for work and machinery used to complete a giant sewer tunnel under the city’s downtown.
Even though the project must be complete by 2028, the debt will still be around, possibly causing even more rate increases. How much more can residents take, better yet, afford?
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