A small break for rate payers…
● By Steven Hoffman
The Oxford Area Sewer Authority Board has granted a small, one-time-only break to rate payers who will soon be receiving their first bills with the 30-percent rate increases. At the Sept. 21 meeting, the board voted unanimously to offer customers the option of taking the full 90 days to pay the bill without late fees or penalties. Normally, customers would have only 30 days to make their payment before the late fees and penalties started being added on.
That’s a small but welcomed break for rate payers as the Oxford Area Sewer Authority Board works to close a significant budget gap.
One resident who attended the sewer authority meeting talked about how the 30-percent rate increases really placed a burden on rate payers, especially since it turns out that they are retroactive. This man runs a laundromat, and the rate increases will impact his business significantly. He said that the retroactive rate increases didn’t give residents time to prepare for them.
John Schaible, who represents Oxford Borough on the sewer authority board, noted that residents spent the weeks since the rate increases were announced on July 20 filling their swimming pools or watering their gardens, when they might have cut back on water usage if they understood that the new rate increases were already in effect.
The confusion about when the rates take effect stems from an October 1 date that was announced at the July 20 meeting—rather than being the first date that the new rates take effect, the October 1 date is when the bills with the new rates included are sent to residents for the next billing cycle.
Peggy Ann Russell, who serves on Oxford Borough Council, said that making the sewage rate increases retroactive like that is very unjust and would result in even more unhappy people. She compared it to a gas station putting one price for a gallon of gas on the sign, but charging a higher price to customers.
Sewer authority officials said that rate increases have always been phased in this way. When the rate increases were smaller, there weren’t as many complaints. The sewer authority board acted quickly to address the concerns, not only offering residents more time to pay the first bill without penalties, but also voting to establish a policy that, when future rate increases are approved, the new rates won’t go into effect until the start of the next billing cycle. This will eliminate the possibility of having the increases impact rate payers before they have a chance to prepare for them.
Russell said that some local families will be financially hurt by the significant sewer rate increases, and that many people in the community are planning to adjust their usage of water.
“There are families that are putting timers on their showers for their kids,” Russell said.