$1.5M Clark County waterline falls short of connection goal

Clark County borrowed more than $1.1 million dollars to build the Limecrest Water System with the hope 150 residents would tap into it by this year to repay the loan.

But only 70 customers out of the more than 280 in the area have connected to the waterline since it was built nearly three years ago, Clark County Utilities & Solid Waste District Director Chuck Bauer said.

“Although it does not appear that the project will meet our initial goal of 150 customers within the first three years of project completion, customers continue to connect to the water system and I believe it is a valuable resource for the Limecrest community,” Bauer said.

It may take five years to hit the target, he said, but he expects the department to eventually reach 150 customers.

Clark county commissioners unanimously approved the project in 2012 at the urging of a former utilities director, though the project wasn’t fully supported by the neighborhood.

The utilities department secured more than $1.1 million in funding for the project’s construction from an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency zero-percent, 30-year loan and up to $400,000 from a grant from the Ohio Public Works Commission.

The target was to have a minimum of 50 Limecrest residents hook up to the county’s water system in the first year and about 150 by the third year to provide enough revenue to repay the loan, utility officials said.

The loan is paid out of the county utilities general water fund and the entire customer base is responsible for the loan, Bauer said.

“Right now we’re behind our projected customer base but we’re not going to go back and change the rates. We had to make an estimate. We’re going to stick with it. It’s not going to change how the loan is going to get paid back,” Bauer said.

The waterline was needed, officials said, because Limecrest residents had complained for years about brown, smelly, rusty water in private wells and a public water system was necessary in the area.

Residents who hook up to the county’s water supply must pay $1,350 for a connection charge and radio read meter, in addition to a plumbing permit fee, costs to hire a plumber and install a water service line to their home and costs to abandon their private well.

Don Hatfield of Limecrest led a neighborhood group that sought a public water system for the area.

“The well here is not a bad well, but it’s still got a lot of iron content so you end up with rust in your toilets and sinks so you have to stay on top of that to keep it clean,” Hatfield said. “That would have been the only reason I would have hooked up, to get cleaner water. But my water is good to drink and good to cook with.”

However some of Limecrest residents have water that’s not good to use, he said.

“But they still can’t afford to hook up,” Hatfield said.

Hatfield, who also has a business and owns multiple properties in the area, said county officials later told him he couldn’t hook up to the waterline unless he annexed his home and business into the city. So Hatfield said he refused to hook up his 12 rental properties to the new waterline.

But city officials said that’s incorrect.

Properties within the Limecrest water service area aren’t required to annex into the city, city officials said.

Properties outside the Limecrest water service area that want to connect to a city waterline and are contiguous with the city’s corporate boundary are required to annex before connecting, city officials said.

Bauer said the cost to connect to the waterline has been an issue.

“The cost for connection can be a deterrent or a hurdle for people to be able to get public water and/or sewer,” Bauer said. “I think that does have something to (do) with it as to why customers aren’t coming on, but I don’t think it’s the only reason. Some people prefer to have their own well.”

The connection fees are based on what it takes to maintain the water system, Bauer said.

Clark County Commissioners John Detrick said the public water system was needed because it was a quality of life issue.

“You’re getting tested water delivered to your house at a reasonable rate,” Detrick said.

Detrick said he hopes utility officials continue to encourage residents to connect to the waterline and promote the safety of drinking water from a public system.

He also said he suggested seeking additional grants to help those who cannot afford the connection fees. Financial assistance is available for low income residents through the USDA Rural Development Home Repair loans and grants program.

The loan program provides up to $20,000 in financing to help low-income applicants in rural areas improve their living conditions and assist with needed home repairs, said Chad Walker, a USDA area technician.

Terms of the loan include 1 percent interest and can extend up to 20 years, Walker said.

The grants are reserved for those 62 and older and a lifetime amount of $7,500 is available. The grant is reserved for health and safety repairs, Walker said.

For more information, visit the Rural Development website at www.rurdev.usda.gov.

Hatfield said many residents aren’t eligible for the grants.

“The majority of Limecrest is probably under poverty level already. For them to come up with that kind of money even though they have a program where they can make payments on it … It’s just more than what people can afford,” Hatfield said.

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