CUMBERLAND — A small group of Gem residents is reigniting a fight against Cumberland over the town’s $78/month sewer rate.
Hancock County residents this week spoke at a Cumberland Sanitary Sewer Utility Board meeting, asking board members to reconsider the current rate. Board members said a sewer study, which would include a review of the rate, is already underway.
For years, residents living between the Cumberland and Philadelphia town limits and north of New Palestine have complained about the rate the town of Cumberland charges them for sewer service.
The debate dates back to 2010, when the town of Cumberland purchased Gem Utilities, taking on about 800 sewer customers who live outside Cumberland town limits.
Gem Utilities has been providing sewer services to residents west of Philadelphia since 1997, and Cumberland purchased the private utility from Steve Reilly in 2010.
Since then, more houses have been built, and some new residents say they’re being overcharged for the service.
Steve Yagelski, Cumberland’s director of utilities, told residents the town is planning to study the current rates as they haven’t been looked at in about four years.
The rate is charged as a flat fee, regardless of home size or the number of occupants.
Resident Chuck Cooper addressed the board this week, saying $78 per month is too high; he asked the board to consider changing the rate structure so residents pay to process the volume of sewage their home produces rather than a flat fee that’s the same for all.
Cooper, who moved to the area just a few months ago, was accompanied to the meeting by Hancock County resident Terri Sall, who began contacting the town of Cumberland weeks ago about the high rate.
Sall told the Daily Reporter her sewer and water bill for a household of two is more than $130. Had she known the sewer rate would be so high when buying her home, she probably wouldn’t have purchased a home near Gem, she said.
In a letter to Cumberland town officials, she wrote the town is “gouging” those residents, that the rate is outrageous compared to other cities and towns.
Marion County residents pay Citizens Energy Group a base sewer rate of $18.75 per month plus additional charges for the amount of water treated. Greenfield residents pay a base fee of $16.61 plus additional charges for water treated.
Anna Pea, a member of the sewer board and the town council, told the Daily Reporter customers are charged based on the utility’s operating costs. State law prohibits utilities from making a profit off customers, she said.
If the rate study shows the current fees are too high, the board will look at ways to reduce the fee, she said.
After the meeting this week, Cooper and Sall met outside of the town’s meeting room, promising they’d keep lobbying for a lower rate. They plan to attend future meetings and get more neighbors involved, they said.
“We’re not giving up,” Sall said.