County to study water upgrades for Liberty, Howland, Weathersfield

WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners on Wednesday committed to a feasibility study to see what it would take to offer county water and sewer services to more people in Liberty, Weathersfield and Howland townships.

Although commissioners were expected to approve a resolution Wednesday calling for the study, there was some confusion about how to word it, so they decided to wait until their meetings next week to place the item on their agenda.

Commissioners decided to request the study from the county’s Sanitary Engineer’s office after concerns were raised by Howland and Weathersfield residents and officials about Niles’ move to annex the city’s utility customers living outside of the city, and because of the high water rates some residents in Liberty pay buying their water from Girard.

Liberty resident Stephen Stoyak raised the issue at the commissioners’ regular meeting Wednesday, asking commissioners to commit to the study after it was brought up at a community meeting held earlier this month to discuss the conflicts and possible economic solutions.

Stoyak said regionalizing more water and sewer operations under the county would help residents avoid the burden that comes with funding their own systems or relying on a city, because cities are able to upcharge their customers who don’t live within city limits.

Why should a couple of thousand people be on the hook for millions of dollars in upgrades to those systems, when a regionalized approach would spread the costs among a larger population with more consistent rates, Stoyak asked.

While Trumbull County water customers pay $8.22 per thousand gallons used, about 1,500 people in Liberty who buy their water from Girard have to pay $17.35 per thousand gallons used.

The lines Girard uses to bring water to people in Liberty are owned by the Trumbull County commissioners. An agreement between the city and county allows Girard to use the lines to bring water to the township, but that is to expire in May.

“In May 2020, when the current water agreement with Girard expires, I encourage you to change the water supplier in this area to Trumbull County, so that my constituents in Liberty Township may take advantage of paying the Trumbull County water rate,” state Sen. Sean O’Brien previously stated in a letter.

Girard buys its water from outside sources that upcharge the city, too. Its residents pay $12.39 per thousand gallons used.

When Girard bought water in 2018 from Trumbull County, Niles, Youngstown and McDonald, the city paid an average bulk rate of $4.74 per thousand of gallons, according to data Stoyak previously provided, based on the results of record requests from the water suppliers.

Water is shuffled through pipes owned by numerous other entities, each tacking on a surcharge, leaving the residents of Liberty to pay some of the highest rates in the county and state.

While the move to include Howland and Weathersfield in the feasibility study didn’t arise until Niles announced its forced annexation plan in December, Stoyak and other Liberty township trustees, including his wife Jodi Stoyak who left office at the end of 2019, have been raising the issue publicly since 2018.

Niles City Council approved legislation that calls for contiguous commercial businesses and residents who live outside of the city limits but use city utilities to annex into Niles.

Areas that are not adjacent to the city that use utilities will be expected to pay the amount equal to the city income tax that would have been paid if those parties were annexed.

Officials in the townships have also asked county commissioners to study how their residents might obtain county services instead of Niles’ services.

A study would identify how many new projects the county would need, identify the number of potential new customers and funding estimates.

New water and sewer projects often take years to design, secure funding and break ground.