New water deal between the county and Hamilton almost sealed

The city of Hamilton and Butler County have come to terms on a new water contract that will mean a slight water rate increase for the city, but ensure the long-term stability of rates for everyone, officials said.

The new contract, that begins in 2015, calls for a county rate decrease from $2.78 per thousand gallons to $1.66, the same rate the county pays to Cincinnati for some of its customers. The city will discuss and likely vote on the new 30-year deal on Wednesday, and the county commissioners will act on March 31.

The average city water customer uses about 5,000 gallons of water per month and it is expected monthly water charges — after the contract commences next year — will go from $18.12 to $20.40. The county’s Water & Sewer Department Director Bob Leventry said he cannot say for sure if the county rates will drop next year.

“We are analyzing the implications and the impacts of the new contract and will move forward with the board of commissioners at that time,” he said.

Commissioner T. C. Rogers said the new contract, once ratified by both entities, provides stability all the way around. It also staved off a 15-percent rate hike the county was facing this year. As for rate reductions next year, he said the county has already been subsidizing its water customers for four years.

“It’s costing us more for the water than we receive from the users,” he said. “That’s why we have to see where we are at before there would be any change of rates. But there won’t be any increase.”

The current contract, ratified in 2002, does not expire until 2021 but the city and county started talking about modifying it several years ago, according to City Manager Joshua Smith. The county is Hamilton’s biggest water user, purchasing 8 million gallons a day, while the city uses 5 million gallons, Smith said.

The county looked into both building its own water system, which carried a $75 million price tag, and buying more water from Cincinnati Water Works, according to Leventry.

Smith said those explorations into other water routes hastened talks about reopening the old contract.

“The county actually had quite a few different options,” he said. “It was one of those things that the county was looking at us and saying, ‘If we don’t do an agreement, we have other options.’ And from their timing perspective, they would have to start those options sooner rather than later. We felt some urgency on our side to make sure the deal was done. The county is our largest customer. I would say the county is our most important customer.”

Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said the proposed agreement may cost residents a little more, but in the long run it saved the city from a potentially disastrous situation had the county gone elsewhere for its water supply.

“I’m aware that there’s going to be some proposed rate increases with our residents. If you start connecting the dots, this is a way to stabilize our rates for the long term, keep our largest water customer, and also when the customer is expected to grow, it’s good for our water business,” Moeller said.

County Administrator Charlie Young said the county distributes water to 38,500 customers, including Monroe and West Chester, Fairfield, Liberty and Lemon townships, serving over 100,000 county residents and businesses. West Chester Twp. is the largest user on the county’s system and trustees there met with county officials last summer to voice their displeasure over the cost difference between the city and county water purchasers.

The city charged the county a higher rate in part because it had to expand its water treatment plant to accommodate rapid growth in areas such as Liberty and West Chester townships. Even with the new contract likely to be passed in the next couple weeks, West Chester Trustee George Lang is still fuming.

“It’s not just the residents who were suffering; some of our businesses are highly dependent on high-quality water from Hamilton…” he said. “We were underwriting the cost of the water in Hamilton.”

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