EATON — Although it only affects 32 households, for those residents it’s sticker shock. Earlier this year, they were advised by the Preble County Commissioners that their sewage rate will increase from its current level of $76 per month to $110.
The $76 rate is double what most inside the county pay.
“I can barely afford my rent. I don’t know how I can afford this,” one resident said.
The Wastewater Plant
The plant was installed in 2012 replacing the original facility built by a housing developer. The county, as required under Ohio law, assumed ownership of the waste treatment plant in the mid-1980s. This means, in addition to operating it, they are also responsible for its funding.
In two public meetings held in January, Preble County Sanitary Engineer Robert Kohnen explained why the county needs to increase the monthly fee.
“There are 32 homes currently paying $76 a month so we have $29,184 revenue coming in to run and pay for the wastewater treatment plant. Over the last four years our average cost, without a repair and replace fund, has been $33,623,” he said.
This leaves the county with a $4,000 annual deficit for the Sewer District 2 facility, he said.
Why is the monthly cost so high?
The term ‘simple math,’ was used a lot by the board of commissioners to explain the increase. It is an issue of dividing annual costs by the number of households using the service, they said. These costs include a $400,000 20-year loan acquired when the facility was built, and, to ensure the county can pay for the plant’s replacement in 50 years, its projected lifespan, the county is also asking residents to fund a repair and replace account.
But as one resident pointed out, no one did that for us.
Under the plan presented to the residents, in 50 years the county would have about 50 percent of the replacement cost.
Could it have been smaller?
One resident said if the monthly costs were ‘simple math,’ why was the plant built to accommodate 100 homes instead of 32. Commissioner Chris Day said the Environmental Protection Agency required the county to replace the plant at the original size. However, a representative of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said the county could have built smaller.
The agency stated, “They (the county) would have to show us that a smaller treatment plant would be large enough to handle and treat the maximum potential wastewater flow from the area it serves.”
They further clarified though that “communities sometimes choose to build larger wastewater plants to allow for future growth. It is more cost efficient to construct enough capacity up front rather than expanding a plant later.”
Hard economic times
In Preble County, though, 2011 was not the era of projecting for future growth. The county had experienced a significant drop in building permits for new residential homes beginning in 2000, when annual permits first issued fell below 200. It was significantly worse a decade later, in 2010, when only 25 permits were issued – roughly the same annual average as today.
Another economic indicator from 2012, home foreclosures, also pointed to hard times for county residents.
According to Policy Matters Ohio, Preble County was in the top 10 for home foreclosures every year between 2007 and 2013. In 2013, the county peaked at 3rd in Ohio before dropping out of the top 10 in 2014 when it ranked 16th.
Increase begins now
March marks the beginning of the rate increases. They will in three stages: $96 per month beginning in March; $105 per month beginning in 2020 and $110 per month starting in 2023.
The affected residents live near the Preble County Line Road and Westbrook Road intersection. Homes were last built in the development in the 1990s.