BY D’ARCY EGAN
Port Clinton residents struggling with their water bills won’t have their service shut off, according to Mayor Mike Snider and Safety-Service Director Tracy Colston, but the bills won’t go away, either.
Gov. Mike DeWine said water, gas and electric services will not be shut off during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Port Clinton and utility companies are following that directive. The city’s budget is so tight, said Snider, it does not have the financial ability to forgive the water department debts.
“If anyone is having financial issues, we want them to call us so we can develop a payment plan for their water bills,” said Snider. “I wish we could offer more relief, but that is not feasible with our budget and lack of cash reserves.”
Colston said city officials have explored every way the city could lower water prices.
“We can’t cut the labor force in our water department,” said Colston. “It’s not a big bureaucracy, with one office supervisor, and custodial maintenance workers struggling to keep up with the needs of the city, from water line repairs to cutting grass to general maintenance.
“Cutting people would put us behind in other avenues of city work, and would not have a huge impact on our bottom line.”
Port Clinton has reached out to the Ottawa County Commissioners for help, hoping to add to the length of Port Clinton’s contract. That could spread out some of our future costs and give us a little financial help during the pandemic, which has put so many of our residents out of work.
Many years ago, Port Clinton joined Oak Harbor in a pact with Ottawa County for regional water. Port Clinton now pays $47,000 a month for clean drinking water.
“Residents pay for water and sewer, and because of the flooding we’ve experienced in the last few years, the cost to chemically treat our sewer water has risen 25% to 30%,” said Snider. “We can’t keep up with EPA mandates if we cut back on the amount of chemicals we’re using.”
Colston said city employees are now working in groups of two or three people in three different buildings so they can perform tasks and still maintain social distancing.
“Our employees feel safe and comfortable while they’re on the job, but they still have so much to do, from the brush pickups that began Monday to sweeping our streets, doing maintenance, supporting fire and EMT crews and policing our city.”