County may change sewer fee structure

FLASHBACK: OCT. 22, 2014

By Dustin Ensinger

County officials are considering a drastic change in the way in which they pay for sanitary sewer system improvements.

Faced with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of capital improvement projects in the coming years and lacking the funding necessary to pay for those improvements, Tiffany Jenkins, the county’s director of environmental services has recommended that a single capacity fee be established for the entire sewer district and surcharges be eliminated by July 2015.

“It’s a complete change in philosophy,” she said.

The proposed $12,000 capacity fee per equivalent residential unit would generate about $272 million once the sewer district’s treatment plants reach full capacity.

The proposed change in the fee structure would allow the county to pay for the $225 million worth of capital improvements projects anticipated in the coming years. It would also provide enough revenue to cover the cost of unexpected maintenance issues and unforeseen changes to EPA rules and regulations.

Under the current fee structure – which includes user fees, capacity fees and surcharges – the county is set to generate $165 million in revenue. Capacity fees are only charged are paid only by property owners served by the Olentangy Environmental Control Center, the Lower Scioto Water Reclamation Facility and the Alum Creek Water Reclamation Facility. Surcharges vary across the county.

Currently, the highest combination of surcharges and capacity fees in the county is $11,250.

“It’s not too far off from the most expensive tax fee area in the county,” Jenkins said of her proposed single capacity fee.

The commissioners, who would need to sign off on any change, were non-committal. Commissioner Dennis Stapleton expressed concern that the change could slow development in what continues to be the fastest growing county in Ohio.

“We may become the slowest growing county if we’ve priced it wrong and it doesn’t work,” he said.

Commissioner Gary Merrell said that some of the projects on the capital improvement plan, which includes $145 million in “expansion” work to spur development, may not be necessary.

“Those projects are so pie in the sky that it is probably marginal on whether you should include them or not,” he said, suggesting the single capacity fee could be lowered.

The commissioners are expected to take the issue up again in the coming weeks.

Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.
FLASHBACK: OCT. 22, 2014