Spat could lead Warren County to spend $6 million for new sewage plant

Warren County has taken a big step toward building a $4 million to $6 million sewage treatment plant around Waynesville .

Warren County staff have proposed the county build a sewer plant would handle sewage from Harveysburg, Corwin and unincorporated areas near Caesar Creek Lake, including a 200-home development recently begun on the edge of Harveysburg. It would cost between $4 and $6 million.

Last week, the county sent a letter asking Ohio EPA to schedule meetings on permits for the proposed plant.

Construction of the new plant would mean that Waynesville would lose about $300,000 it is paid annually by the county to process sewage from the outlying areas at its sewer plant.

And on top of the threat to sewer fees village voters in May voted down a renewal request for the village’s 1-percent income tax. Village council, worried over the loss of $400,000 in annual revenue if the tax went away, have put the issue on the November ballot for another try at voter approval. The village government just emerged in April from six years in fiscal emergency.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” Mayor David Stubbs said. “We’re back to where we were five or six years ago.”

In April, the Ohio Auditor of State declared the end of a fiscal emergency for the village. It was declared six years ago after a special audit found $230,000 in deficits in the village’s fund balances.

On Tuesday, county staffers told the board of commissioners that Waynesville officials were waiting to see if the income tax passes before moving ahead with negotiations with the county on a new agreement to process the county sewage or on whether to turn over the village sewer plant over to the county altogether.

“Essentially what they are telling us is this is not going to move forward for the next four months,” said Chris Brausch, the county’s sanitation engineer.

Currently Waynesville processes sewage for its residents and those in neighboring communities at its plant, which is running close to 80 percent of capacity, according to Brausch. The village also operates its own water plant.

In June, the village council authorized negotiations with the county to turn over one or both utility services.

Stubbs said village officials were hesitant to move ahead with negotiations while the income tax renewal was undecided.

On Tuesday the county commissioners encouraged staff to continue to pursue a new agreement with the village or the sewage plant takeover. The existing agreement expires in 2019.

County officials said the village was stalling to improve its leverage in negotiations. They also charged village officials were relying on the utility fees to cover general expenses.

Village Councilwoman Kimberley Kaan and Stubbs denied the accusations. They said the village was not misusing the utility fees or charging unfair rates.

“I am absolutely flabbergasted at what you are telling me,” Kaan said.

They said they were awaiting the results of an overdue cost-and-rate analysis and expressed confidence the negotiations with the county would continue.

Brausch said he would also continue negotiating with the village, while beginning talks with EPA.

“Either way we’re doing our due diligence,” Commissioner Pat South said.

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