Water deal shows promise, but still more needs done
We are glad to see Trumbull County and two local communities have not thrown in the towel on efforts to reduce water rates for about 1,500 water users who pay the second-highest water rates in the state of Ohio.
The county had planned to ink a new 20-year contract that would have put an end to any hope of reducing the exorbitant water rates for these Liberty Township water customers for at least two more decades.
The very high rates come largely because state law allows unlimited surcharges to be tacked onto the utility. Specifically, Ohio law allows a 40 percent surcharge to be added to the utility any time an entity sells water outside its limits. No regulation prevents these charges from being stacked if the water travels through multiple sources.
In this particular case, water is shuffled through pipes owned by numerous other entities, with each taking its cut by tacking on a surcharge, and Liberty users are at the end of the line.
Trumbull County water customers pay $8.22 per 1,000 gallons, but these 1,500 Liberty users who buy their water from Girard pay $17.35 per 1,000 gallons. Girard buys its water from outside sources that upcharge the city, too. Girard users pay $12.39 per 1,000 gallons.
Despite urging from some residents that the water service be turned over to the county, Girard city officials have no interest in giving up these customers, and commissioners and the sanitary engineer’s office have expressed concern about going toe-to-toe with Girard on the issue that could lead to problems with the contract between the county and Girard for sewage treatment.
All hope of reducing the water rates for these 1,500 customers was looking bleak.
Suddenly, however, talks with neighboring Girard generated an idea about the possibility of Trumbull County providing more bulk water at a lower cost to that area of Liberty.
Currently, the county provides only about 10 percent of the bulk water for this area. The plan would allow Girard to decrease its overall cost of operating the Liberty system.
If research shows this idea is feasible, it could reduce water rates for those Liberty customers.
While officials research the viability, they decided to postpone signing the 20-year deal, and instead, Girard and county officials agreed to more limited six-month water and sewer contracts to allow them all time to investigate the financial and operational feasibility.
A regional approach to examining and, hopefully, fixing this ongoing rate disparity is the right thing to do.
While it’s true that Girard and Liberty have not been known for overtly cooperative efforts with one another, this just might be a sign of newfound teamwork. Anything can happen when communities collaborate for the good of the region.
Unfortunately, even if Trumbull County and these communities come together to try to solve this problem locally, it still could crop up again in the future here and in other parts of the state. That’s why we again urge our local state legislators to begin exploring ways to reduce the unfair rates by exploring ways to regulate the amount of fees that can be tacked onto the utility.
That really would be something to cheer about.