Mansfield Building

City of Mansfield Municipal Building.

MANSFIELD -- Final votes on a $35 million bond issue and increased water rates are still a month away.

But Mansfield Public Works Director Dave Remy and engineer Bob Bianchi told City Council on Tuesday night that "dire" problems at the water treatment plant and also an aging water line distribution system are not going away.

The bond issue would pay for the EPA-mandated problems at the water creation system along Lexington-Springmill Road, the two said. The planned water rate increases would re-pay the bond and also launch a systematic replacement of water lines throughout the city over the next decade.

Bianchi said fixing the water treatment plant is a necessity, especially given the EPA mandates from the state.

"The last thing we would ever want to do is not be able to provide water into our system and to the citizens of Mansfield," Bianchi said. "That would catastrophic beyond words. We don't want to depressurize aging water lines.

 "The water treatment plant is priority one. We then want to replace the water lines strategically," he said, telling council that 40 to 60 miles of the city's water lines are aging 4-inch lines that need to be replaced with 8-inch lines to provide adequate service to residents and also to the fire department."

Bianchi said the city has about 320 miles of water lines in its system, some of which are a century old. The last water line replacement in the city was five years ago, he said.

"When I started in the engineer's office, we averaged about 100 water main breaks a year," Bianchi said. "It's up to about 160 per year now.

"I think having this process says we are now adequately prepared to respond (to the city's water needs). It's not fun by any means, but it's a process of being able to replace water lines that desperately needed," the engineer said.

The city has not increased water rates since 2004, though on Tuesday council amended the legislation being considered to lessen the increase on customers at the lowest level of usage. Final votes on the bond issue and water rate hikes are planned Sept. 15.

Finance Director Linn Steward expressed concerns about financial implications given the slowed-start to the city-wide water meter replacement program, funded by a a $17 million bond issue that is supposed to pay for itself with increased revenues through more accurate measurement.

The work has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and may not be completed now until the spring of 2021. Water revenues through the end of July down 7.3 percent compared to 2019, about $338,000, Bianchi said.

"I am concerned about the virus situation and how construction will go and how our water revenue will increase," said Steward, asking if the bond issue could be broken into two phases. "If we can't pay for the bond with our water revenues, (the general fund) will have to make up the rest.

"If we split this into two phases, we would have a better idea of our revenues in three years. Even if it does cost us a little more due to having to seek a second round of bonds, it would be better than not being able to pay our debt and going back into fiscal emergency," the finance director said.

Remy said, "The situation at the water treatment plant is dire. We can then attempt to deal with the distribution system as (water) revenue allows us to do it. We have put together a detailed plan that has not been done in the past.

"The lower revenue is obviously somewhat related to COVID-19 and also meter functionality, or lack of functionality. It's a combination of a bunch of things," Remy said, adding the company doing the meter replacement has ramped up its efforts.

Jon Van Harlingen, 3rd Ward councilman and chair of the finance committee, expressed frustration that the water issues have not been addressed in the past.

"This goes back to past (city) administrations," he said. "I have personal experience at the water treatment plant and I know some things that haven't been done. We just went through this with the wastewater treatment plant (that is raising sewer rates annually). I understand the need. This is just an awful lot for our citizens to swallow in a short period of time."

Council gave a first reading to the bond issue and water rate increase ordinance on Tuesday and will examine the amended versions when providing a second reading on Sept. 15. At the second meeting in September, council will vote on the water rate increases before considering the bond issue.

Also on Tuesday, council approved spending $1.69 million in CARES Act federal relief funds, though it was amended slightly from the version distributed to council on Friday. 

Mayor Tim Theaker said the list was developed through meetings with Steward, Law Director John Spon, other city elected officials and department heads.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by the Congress and signed into law by President Trump in March 2020 in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the relief act, some of the funds were allocated to individual states, which has then released some of the money to local governments.

In order for the city to use the funds, the costs must be incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30. The expenditures must have been incurred as a result of the public health emergency and were not accounted for in the city's approved 2020 budget. The expenses must be encumbered by mid October.

Theaker said $275,000 would go to provide one-time grants to small businesses in the city impacted by COVID-19, a program that will be conducted with the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development. The mayor said businesses will apply for the grants through the chamber with a maximum grant of $10,000 per business.

Theaker said additional federal dollars with fewer strings attached, perhaps as much as $3 million, may be coming to the city. "But we have to spend the $1.6 million before we could even be considered for more," he said.

In other matters Tuesday, council:

-- heard a presentation from Lee Tasseff, president of Destination Mansfield-Richland County, on the impact of COVID-19 on local tourism. It was similar to a presentation he made Aug. 11 to Richland County commissioners.

-- approved demolitions at nine locations deemed to be dilapidated -- 8 Stoodt Ave., 28 Flint St., 132 S. Adams St., 148 Bowman St., 226 S. Diamond St., 239 W. Fourth St., 326 W. Sixth St., 340 West Third St. and 605 Harold Ave.

-- approved amendment of three traffic ordinances to bring them into compliance with state law.

-- discussed during caucus a plan to begin using the "construction manager at risk" during construction of public improvements. If approved, the manager would participate in the design process and could then perform the work or sub-contract all or parts of the project.

-- approved acceptance of $50,000 from the Ohio Attorney General's Office to assist with the Opiate Response Team project. Half the money will fund personnel with the other half going to contractual services and supplies. No matching funds are required.

-- approved granting a license to Oakmont Education, 1160 W. Fourth St., to use the public right-of-way to install a bus shelter.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"