February / March 2011

TMACOG’s Environmental Council Addresses Costs of Sewer Mandates

At its regularly scheduled January 27 meeting, members of the Environmental Council took up some big questions of the cost of mandated water projects. When the EPA tells a community that they need to take steps to protect clean water, the cost can be more than a community can summon. In the Village of North Baltimore, council and the village administrator have put together a tenuous package of rate increases, loans, and grants to try to cover costs. The village council raised water and sewer rates 20 percent, got some stimulus funding, and qualified for some low-interest loans to help pay for an EPA mandate to separate sanitary and storm sewer systems and do essential repairs. “It’s frustrating,” said Village Administrator Kathy Healy. “There’s no realistic way [to pay for the mandates], and as village officials we’re negligent if we don’t raise rates.” She says that the sewer system alone will cost the village of 3,400 people $15 million. Some village residents are challenging the rate increase in court, which could put the grant in jeopardy. Healy adds, “We read about a new community every week in the same spot. Every community is on its own.”

In the last year, TMACOG has been working with groups of elected officials and other agencies to try to convey the scope of the problem to state and local government and to seek some relief. In addition to immediate costs borne by residents, sewer expenses affect economic development efforts in the region: businesses consider the cost of utilities when they decide where to build or if they can expand. If business goes elsewhere and population drops, the cost is spread among fewer households and businesses.

At the January meeting, a representative of the Association of Ohio Metropolitan Wastewater Agencies (AOMWA) made a presentation on the affordability of mandated sewerage projects. Legislation has been introduced in the Ohio Senate that would require Ohio EPA to consider affordability and economic impact of sewerage projects. Council members discussed whether TMACOG should take a position on the legislation.

One way to address the problem of funding these costly projects would be a Water Trust Fund. This was also part of the discussion at the Environmental Council meeting. Such a fund could be an ongoing source of loans and/or grants that would not be subject to state or federal appropriations. How to find finances to establish the fund is one of the questions being considered.

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