PERRYSBURG — Three pieces of legislation that came out of council’s public utilities committee have been passed by council, including a $1.5 million dewatering facility improvement for the wastewater treatment plant.

Jonathan Smith, public utilities committee chair, said that the dewatering system is a low maintenance system which had not received significant updates since the 1990s. He described it as a process that removes and sanitizes water from the waste for replacement into the ecosystem. The water is sent back to the river, while solids are taken to local fields.

There are two different machines involved in the process. One is being replaced and the other is to receive significant repairs.

“The one being replaced will be held in reserve as a back-up unit, if possible. The useful life of the new units is projected to be more than 20 years,” Smith said. “These are upgrades that were required by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Council also passed a change to the way users are charged late fees for water and sanitary sewer. While bills are still going to be due on the 15th of the month, there is now a standard four-day grace period for the assessment of a late fee, to allow for mail delivery to the public utilities department. There will also be an option, if asked for, to have the late fee waived, once per calendar year.

“I think that this will be a much better improvement, from the way things were. I know that with the staff in the billing department, this is what they recommended, after all the issues that had come into play,” Smith said. “I think we had been talking about this since June and and solved it in July, but we didn’t, and so we brought it back to again try to resolve the issue.”

The original problem began when more late fees than usual started showing up on bills. This was soon after the pandemic started.

Several residents, who had never previously had a late payment, had the fees show up, even though they had proof that the bills had been paid. This prompted an investigation by Smith.

Initial investigations showed that of the nearly 10,000 customers, there were almost 900 with the late fees.

It was found that some mail had arrived at the public utilities department as much as 45 days after the due date. This was exacerbated by mail that did not receive postmarks. Working with some customers it was found that the unmarked mail included checks that were paid on time, by automatic bill pay systems, but were not arriving in a timely fashion. The reason for the late arrival is unknown.

“We ended up making the recommendation back in July to have late fees waived, if the postmark was made prior to the 15th of the month,” Smith said. “What we found out later is that the practice of the public utilities billing office, for probably decades, was that they weren’t actually applying the late fees after the 15th. They were waiting a few days, say the 18th or 19th, and applying a waiver, if they hadn’t had any late payments. That was a frustration to us at the council committee, because it was not communicated to us originally.”

This was made worse by the July change to a postmark requirement.

“Apparently, with the way it was going to be done, there were going to be a lot more late fees, and that was not the goal behind what we were trying to accomplish. With this new one, we ended up removing the postmark requirement, because the other issue we found was that a lot of the mail was coming in without postmarks,” Smith said. “We don’t want the late fees to be a revenue generator for the city. We want the late fees to be only a means to cover the extra expenses to the city, and taxpayers, for making sure the fees are finally collected.”

A proposal for engineering designs from Jones and Henry Engineering was accepted for Maple Street sanitary sewer project. It will include 600 feet of sanitary sewer, 1,200 feet of force main, rehabilitation of 4,100 feet of sewer interceptor along Grassy Creek and the purchase of a 3,500 gpm portable pump and trailer.

The total cost of the proposal is $98,455 to perform the field survey, develop plans, assist with bidding and make recommendations for the project award. Costs for the proposal are covered in the 2020 budget through unencumbered balances.

In other business, the council had their first reading for legislation to adopt the 2020 municipal budget. The various council committees have been reviewing the budgets of their respective departments and programs. The budget document is now prepared to be reviewed by council as a whole.

Council also authorized DGL Consulting Engineers to provide a 12-month design, specifications and bid document proposals for the 2021 road resurfacing program at a rate of $80,000 with an additional $15,000, not to exceed fee for a total bid of $95,000 for 2021.

A purchase was also approved for $26,505 from Finley Fire Equipment for equipment needed for confined space training for the fire department.

A 1998 ordinance meant to allow for one-time culling of the deer population within the city limits was repealed, because it was considered unsuccessful.