Even though Fairfield’s water and sewer rates increased slightly in 2020, the city public utilities are still one of the best values in Southwest Ohio, according to this year’s Oakwood utility rates study.
The city ranks 12th in combined water and sewer rates — based on 22,500 gallons of water in a three-month period as of March 1 — among 63 jurisdictions that provide both utility services. For years, the city had been at the top of that list, but Public Utilities Director Adam Sackenheim said that is not a list Fairfield wants to top.
“There was a time that we were at the very top end of this survey, where we were the lowest water and sewer provider in the area, but we went 22 years at one time without raising water rates,” he said, adding that some public utility maintenance that was deferred as a result. “I think if we can stay in the top 25, top 35 percent, then that is something that’s a selling point for someone if they want to relocate a business to Fairfield.”
The Oakwood study shows Butler County has four districts within the top 20 of the list, which includes the county’s water and sewer department (9) that provides service to the townships. The cities of Oxford (11) and Monroe (16) are also in that top 20 with Fairfield.
Fairfield has the lowest water rates in Butler County at $100.70 based on the study’s criteria. The city is fourth in the county with its sewer rates ($133.91). Sackenheim said his goal is to have the city ranked between 10 and 20 on this list in order to remain attractive to business and commercial operations and residents.
“I think it just means that we’ve got rates that are efficient,” he said. “But what’s important to me, that while we are in that top 25 percent of lowest cost providers in that area, the rates are allowing us to continue to reinvest in our infrastructure.”
The city has invested millions in replacing water mains, painting water towers and upgrading its wastewater and water treatment plans. That was in large part due to the plan to increase water and sewer rates from 2017 to 2020.
“We made a big jump four years ago,” Sackenheim said. “We had two years of almost double-digit rate increases . Now in the last two years, we’ve been more in the 5 percent increase range, but that’s put us in the position where we have enough revenue that we’re able to reinvest in these assets that are now 60, 70-plus years old.”
In September, Sackenheim will present to council possible future water and sewer rate adjustments. The city has received preliminary recommendations from a financial consultant, he said. Sackenheim is working with Finance Director Scott Timmer to review those suggestions, and project the department’s needs over the next five, 10 and possibly 15 years.
“The hope is that we are in a position that we are in a ‘maintenance’ mode so that rates are stable, rates are where we need to be and if rates go up 2 or 3 percent each year, that’s something we think it potentially acceptable to cover the operational costs,” Sackenheim said. “We’re trying to avoid those big jumps, but if we can keep it at that 2 to 3 percent per year, that’s something we’re going to shoot for and that’s something that will allow us to have the revenue on hand to take care of the problematic areas in our system, and our plants.”
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