Former Councilman Confronts FC Council About Water Bills

Restaurant owner Tom Shaffer accused Ford City Council of hiking water rates as much as 33%. Council disagreed and maintains that increases in the September water bill is temporary due to installation of new electronic meters.

A former Ford City Borough councilman was present at last night’s public meeting to protest increases in water rates.

Tom Shaffer, who served on Council from 2005 until 2009, said some residents have come into his Fifth Avenue coffee shop and complained that the September bill on some residents is too high.

“It’s time to fess up to what you did. You have not read the meters right. You lied about how much the water is, and you are charging people too much money, and it’s wrong,” Shaffer said.

Council woman Beth Bowser said that there was a mandatory three-percent increase requested by PennVest who financed the new water plant project.

“On November 2016, we passed the ordinance to raise it three-percent,” Bowser said.

The Borough on August 16 transitioned from a human meter reader to a wireless meter that automatically transmits meter readings to the Borough office. This meant that some accounts could have been in the middle of a six-week cycle, while other meters were read just several weeks before. Fenyes said that this could constitute differences from one bill to the next.

“We have the new MXUs that automatically read and transmit directly to the Borough office. We no longer have someone who goes out to walk the streets to read the water meters. It’s all electronically transmitted. Normally we would read half the town one month, and half the town the other month. So when we read the water meters, we adjusted for the people who hadn’t been read in the correct cycle.”

Fenyes said the transition caused there to be an extended billing period for some customers, while others who had just had their meters read the previous month would receive what would be considered to be a normal bill.

The base rate of $30.90 per residential household assumes consumption at 3,000 gallons, whether or not the customer used that amount of water. If they used additional gallons, the bill would be higher based on actual usage.

Council Vice-President Tyson Klukan said the increase amounts to approximately 90-cents on an average residential water bill. Shaffer contends the increased billing costs amounts to a 33% increase.

“So you increase the rate by 33% – Where’s your water engineer right now?” Shaffer asked. “He knew by reading every month you are going to increase the water bills by 33% on the people of Ford City, and you say you are only going to raise it a dollar a month — it’s wrong!”

Council could not understand Shaffer’s math on how he came up with the 33% figure. Shaffer did not explain his accusations.

Fenyes recognized that the switch-over to the new billing system may have a few challenges.

“It’s a whole new way to read and bill. I will say this about the three-percent – That was supposed to be passed by the previous council, but they didn’t pass it. When it came time for us to complete the (new water plant) project, we realized the increase was not passed. This council is only following through on plans that were voted on and put into effect by previous councils. This water treatment plant isn’t a new thing. It’s been talked about for a long time. Do we have some glitches in the billing? Yes. But we are working with the people. All they have to do is come in (to the Borough office).”

Fenyes said office workers are prepared to address questions and concerns during regular business hours. She also said that customers will see more customary charges during the next full billing cycle.

Borough Secretary Lisa Bittner said bills are mailed out on the last work day of each month and are due by the 15th of the following month, which has been standard procedure for many years.

Ford City Borough Council listens to a diatribe from Tom Shaffer during last night’s public meeting.