Warren County considers increase to water bill

Fee to offset $60 million for water softening

Warren County wants to raise water and sewer bills to build up reserves for a $60 million plan to soften water provided to users.

On Tuesday, staff urged the board of commissioners to support their proposal to add $5 in bimonthly fees to build up cash reserves, along with 3 percent annual increases in basic water rates and 1 percent hikes in sewer rates from 2017 through 2019.

They urged the commissioners to back the plan to replace a $2.50 fee to support an expanded sewage treatment system with a $7.50 fee for water service on bills collected every other month, in addition to charges based on usage.

But the two commissioners at the meeting split on the proposal and postponed their decision.

“I’d like to think more about this,” Commissioner Tom Grossmann said, suggesting the decision could turn on the perspective of the third commissioner.

Pat South, who is retiring at the end of the year, was absent. Her successor, Shannon Jones, will take office in January.

County Sanitation Engineer Chris Brausch and Administrator Tiffany Zindel indicated a decision before the end of the year would enable the new rate structure to be included in budgets for water and sewer services over the the next three years, heading into 2017.

The county could start the design for the water softening project as early as 2017, county officials said.

The debate centered on a difference of opinion on whether to build up reserves through rates charged to current customers for future projects — some of which would take place after they move away — or delay the increases until the money is needed, requiring the county to take on more debt.

The $5 fee hike on bimonthly bills is expected to raise about $1.2 million a year, reducing the amount that would be borrowed for the softening project.

“Borrowing money has a fairness not borrowing doesn’t have,” Grossmann, elected two years ago, said. “People that are going to use it are going to pay for it.”

Commissioner Dave Young said adding the sewer fee, starting next year, would save the county — and residents who continued to live there — money in the long run.

“There’s tens of thousands of people that are not seeing significant increases,” he said.

In addition to reducing the debt taken on to finance softening, the fees could save money for residents who otherwise have softening systems in their homes.

The rate increase discussion followed a Nov. 8 meeting during which the commissioners agreed to seek bids from engineers designing plant improvements enabling the county to provide softened water to all customers. The county is also exploring the cost of purchasing the softened water from Butler County or the Greater Cincinnati system.

Staff indicated 71 percent of 600 customers responding to an on-line survey were in favor of the fee in anticipation of getting softened water.

The county serves the Villages of Corwin, Harveysburg, and Maineville, as well as portions of Clear Creek, Deerfield, Franklin, Hamilton, Turtle Creek, Union, and Wayne townships.

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