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North Hills

Ross taxes unchanged, but sewer bills going up

Tony LaRussa
| Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 4:06 p.m.
Revenue generated by the 28.5 percent increase in sewage rates being imposed on Allegheny County Sanitary Authority customers over the next four years will be used to help comply with the federal goverment's mandate that it reduce by half the 9 billion gallons of raw sewage released into area waterways each year.
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Revenue generated by the 28.5 percent increase in sewage rates being imposed on Allegheny County Sanitary Authority customers over the next four years will be used to help comply with the federal goverment's mandate that it reduce by half the 9 billion gallons of raw sewage released into area waterways each year.

Ross commissioners have approved a 2018 budget that keeps property taxes at the same rate for the sixth consecutive year.

But residents won't escape paying more for government services starting in January — the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority has approved rate increases that will automatically kick in at the start of each of the next four years.

“The Ross Township portion of the sewer fee remains constant; there's no change in that,” board President Jeremy Shaffer said. “But Alcosan continues to raise their rates.”

Ross collects a $4.50 quarterly service fee, which has remained the same since 2014. The township also collects $4.50 a quarter for every 1,000 gallons of water treated in a quarter. That fee has remained the same since 2015, when the fee was hiked from $3.75 to the current rate, according to a letter from Alcosan to the municipality outlining the rate changes.

Beginning Jan. 1, Alcosan's rate will increase 51 cents a quarter, from $6.91 to $7.42 for every 1,000 gallons used, which is a 7.4-percent increase. The rate will jump another 7 percent in 2019, '20 and '21.

Alcosan estimates that the average customer uses about 12,000 gallons of water every three months, which will result in an average quarterly bill of $104.64 after the first rate increase takes effect. Customers who use 12,000 gallons currently pay $97.43 each quarter.

“The reality is, we're under a federal consent order,” Commissioner Dan DeMarco said. At some point, we're going to be looking at sewer bills that will be among the highest utility bills we receive, and there's nothing we can do about it.”

The four years worth of rate hikes approved by Alcosan's board of directors last month are lower than originally expected. Rather than 7.5 percent for year one and 7 percent in the following three years, the original hike was pegged at 11 percent for 2018 and then 10 percent for the next three years.

Four years ago, the board approved rate increases of 17 percent followed by three years of 11 percent hikes.

Alcosan is under a federal mandate to cut in half by 2026 the estimated 9 billion gallons of sewage each year that overflows its sewer system and ends up in waterways.

Alcosan's recent negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice resulted in the authority receiving a 10-year extension on complying with the Clean Water Plan it submitted to the federal government, according to Jeanne Clark, a spokeswoman for the authority.

The extension allowed the authority to lower the rate hikes that were originally proposed. Alcosan will now have until 2037 to comply, Clark said.

The sewage rates are part of the budget process because the sewer fund is incorporated into a municipality's annual revenue and spending plan.

Ross Township's 2018 budget provides funding for the municipality to continue an aggressive infrastructure improvement program it launched this year while keeping the real estate tax at its current rate.

The $21.3 million spending plan is more than $2.43 million over this year's budget and includes $2.3 million for major infrastructure improvements, with $1.5 million earmarked for paving and $800,000 to replace the Hillcrest and Brookview bridges. This year, the township spent about $2 million for paving but did not replace any bridges.

The unchanged 2.7 mill real estate tax rate means property owners will continue to pay $2.70 for every $1,000 of assessed value on their properties. The median assessed value for a home in Ross is $132,500.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368, tlarussa@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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