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Why Montgomery County water, sewer customers will pay more

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 8:51 AM
Updated: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 4:06 PM
By: Chris Stewart - Staff Writer

Water and sewer customers receiving service through Montgomery County will see their combined rate climb an average 14 percent in 2018 and go up 5.6 percent each year after through 2022, the county announced Thursday.

The increase is needed because of deteriorating infrastructure resulting in higher costs for maintenance and needed new construction with little foreseeable state or federal funding, officials said.

The average Montgomery County residential customer, now paying about $170, will see quarterly bills rise about $24 in 2018.

“It may appear to be a relatively large increase,” County Administrator Joe Tuss said. “But when you look at where we’ve been from an historic standpoint, it’s about catching up and generating the revenue we need to invest.”

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While Montgomery County purchases water pumped by the city of Dayton, the county maintains a distribution system of 1,400 miles of water mains as well as 1,200 miles of sewer line and two wastewater plants.

The system provides drinking water and fire prevention for about 250,000 residents. Most customers are in Centerville, Harrison Twp., Kettering, Miami Twp., Riverside, Trotwood and Washington Twp.

“Like many systems across the country, we have an aging system, and this rate increase is necessary to help us replace and maintain our water and sewer system,” said Tuss. “We had low or no rate increases for eight years, and we just can’t put this off any longer.”

Montgomery County rate increases have averaged about 2.5 percent since 2007, which is below the state average of 4 percent, according to Ohio Environmental Protection Agency data.

Officials estimate about $750 million will need to be spent over the next 20 years to maintain and replace aging portions of the system.

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A larger portion of a customer’s bill will be the fixed charge, going from 20 percent to 40 percent, while consumption charges move from 80 to 60 percent. The increased fixed charge will provide more stable, long-term financing needed to upgrade and maintain the system the county values at $3.1 billion, said Pat Turnbull, the county’s Environmental Services director.

Turnbull said the county is routinely experiencing 300 or more water main breaks a year — spending about $2 million annually to fix — on the system primarily installed 60-70 years ago.

“The water mains are breaking more frequently. The sewer lines are cracking more frequently,” he said. “We are just reaching that point — similar to the roof on your house — when you’re having to patch leaks all the time, you get to a place where it’s time to put a new roof on”

Officials say two large projects are required to ensure that tens of thousands of customers aren’t at risk of losing water or sewer service.

A $65-85 million replacement and upgrade of the main sewer line and pump station to the Western Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant is planned. The 40-year-old sewer line and pump station is the only sanitary service for more than 83,000 residential and business customers.

The county also plans an additional water feed that provides drinking water and fire protection for 150,000 customers in Centerville, Jefferson Twp., Kettering, Miami Twp., Moraine and Washington Twp. Cost of the project is estimated to be $76-118 million.

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In addition to the loss of revenue because of decreasing water consumption, federal dollars that once paid for up to 90 percent of plant construction have gone away almost entirely, Turnbull said.

“Those grant dollars have gone away over the last couple of decades, and we do not see a replacement funding source on the horizon from the federal or state level,” he said. “So these dollars have to be generated locally primarily, and that would be in the form of rates.”