Warren County considering 3-year water, sewer rate increases

Bills would rise 6-7% per year in that time to offset rising costs; tap-in and connection fees for new development could rise

Inflation, higher operating costs and a need to expand infrastructure have the Warren County commissioners looking at increasing water and sewer user rates, water tap-in and sewer connection fees, and other fees and charges.

During a public hearing Tuesday, Sanitary Engineer Chris Brausch said the operating costs of the Water and Sewer Department have doubled over the past four years from $700,000 to $1.4 million. He said the department had to dip into its reserves to cover an $850,000 operating deficit for 2023.

“We need to raise our rates to break even on the operating side in 2024,” Brausch said. “Our goal is to be more self-sufficient.”

He is proposing to raise water and sewer bills by about 6-7% per year over the next three years, with a goal to break even over that same time period. The county water and sewer systems are enterprise funds that operate on tight margins and excess funds can only be used to cover the costs of system repairs and reinvested into that infrastructure, Brausch said.

Brausch said if the proposal is approved by the commissioners, an average customer’s bi-monthly minimum bill in 2024 would go to $35.32 for water and $33.48 for sewer or a total of $68.80 based on 6,000 gallon minimum usage, which is about 100 gallons a day.

That bi-monthly rate would go up to $37.59 for water and $34.98 for sewer or a total of $72.57 in 2025; then go to $39.22 for water and $35.92 for sewer for a total of $75.14 in 2026.

Brausch said the user fee increases are needed due to chemical, material and utility costs which have skyrocketed over the past few years.

Since 2020, the department has seen a 97% increase in the cost for utilities; a 93% increase in main-break restoration costs; a 1,000% increase in chemical costs; and a 143% increase in debt service. Brausch said the county system spends between $750,000 and $1 million in water line repairs each year.

Even with the proposed rate increase, Warren County’s rates would be among the lowest in the city of Piqua’s recurring regional survey of water and sewer rates.

Brausch said the county is working on some major infrastructure improvement projects in its efforts to be more self-sufficient by the end of 2025.

Among the projects are the $5 million for improvements at the Richard Renneker System Water Plant; a $6 million project to install 32,000 feet of 24-inch water mains (which is about two-thirds completed); and the $3 million expansion of the Middletown Junction well field located along the Little Miami River between South Lebanon and the Peters Cartridge Factory.

Brausch said the well field expansion will provide an additional 3 million gallons a day in water capacity and would decrease the need to purchase water from Greater Cincinnati Water Works for the southern portion of Warren County. He said $5 million or one-third of the water operating costs goes toward the purchase of water for about 15% of the customers. The county contract with Greater Cincinnati Water Works expires at the end of 2025.

Tim Burgoyne of the Ohio Valley Development Council asked the commissioners to grandfather projects that are already approved via preliminary plans. Otherwise, the proposed tap-in and connection fee increases could impact a project with a sudden $400,000 to $500,000 cost.

Commission President David Young said that was something the commissioners could consider to help homebuilders.

However, another representative from the same organization, Brian Scheck, asked the commissioners for consideration to lower the tap-in rates, saying they put a burden on new users to the county.

Young said the county’s “policy was that new growth pays its own way.”

He said the developers have done well and Warren County’s tap fees are comparable to Butler, Greene and Clermont counties.

The commissioners continued the public hearing to 9 a.m. Feb. 27.

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