Decision postponed on $62 million Warren County water system

Warren County commissioners are considering providing softened water to county customers.

Shannon Jones, the veteran state lawmaker now serving as a Warren County Commissioner, could cast the decisive vote on water- and sewer-rate and fee hikes proposed to help pay for as much as $62 million in system upgrades.

On Tuesday, the commissioners again postponed completion of a public hearing, begun in November and expected to set the stage for a decision on whether to make the improvements needed to provide softened water to county customers.

The rate and fee hikes would help the county pay off debt taken on to make the upgrades.

“We have not adjusted our sewer and water rates in the last three years. It’s about time,” Chris Brausch, the county’s sanitary engineer, said Tuesday.

In November, before Jones joined the board of commissioners, Brausch urged the commissioners to support the proposal to add $5 in bimonthly fees to build up cash reserves, along with 3 percent annual increases in basic water rates and 1 percent hikes in sewer rates from 2017 through 2019.

The alternative would be to contract with Butler County or the Greater Cincinnati system.

RELATED: Warren County’s budgets nearly $73 million for 2017

In November, Commissioner Dave Young said it would save customers money, but Commissioner Tom Grossmann questioned charging current customers for something that would benefit future customers.

With Commissioner Pat South, who did not seek reelection, absent, the decision was postponed.

“I have been briefed on the presentation you received in November,” Jones said during a brief discussion with Brausch and Grossmann before the public hearing was postponed.

RELATED: New Warren County Jail estimated to cost $40 million

After the meeting, Jones said she was awaiting staff’s new presentation.

“I don’t really have any thoughts formed at this juncture. I’m still in the information-gathering phase,” she said.

The presentation, very similar to the one presented in November, cites a customer survey in favor of the rate and fee hikes to pay for softened water.

It described the county system and the potential for additional water sales, once the county water is softened.

It also indicated softened water purchased from the Greater Cincinnati Waterworks for customers in the Socialville area was “the largest single expenditure for the department.”

The cost of adding softening systems to serve customers and minimize the purchase of water from other providers is projected at $62 million, including $20 million in cash and $42 million in loans, starting in 2020, and requiring $3 million a year for debt service.

Other options cost less, but rely on other providers, rather than investing in the county’s system.

On Tuesday, Young was absent, prompting the commissioners to again postpone conclusion of the hearing, this time for two weeks.

Grossmann didn’t comment Tuesday on his position. He couldn’t be reached after the meeting.

The commissioners are expected to take up the issue again at 9:45 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 24.

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