County working on water and sewer rate issues in Prairie Twp.

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By Amanda Ensinger
Staff Writer

Prairie Township residents demanded answers from Franklin County officials on water and sewer charges. At a special meeting, held April 19 at Westland High School, more than 50 residents wanted to know why their water bill is higher than those in neighboring communities.

“The water bills in Prairie Township are more than double what they are for the same home with the same water usage in Columbus,” said John Griffith, a landlord in Prairie Township. “People live on fixed incomes in this community and a $400 or $500 water bill is devastating for them.”

The residents asked county officials why the rates were so high and what is being done about it.

“There are 26 non-contiguous service areas  the county Franklin County provides water for,” said Stephen Renner, director of the Franklin County Sanitary Engineers. “We have an aging system and a fleet of service trucks that have to service these non-contiguous areas on any given day. These all contribute to the costs.”

Officials added that the county has only increased the water bills slightly in the past few years to try to reduce customer expenses. However, they should have been increasing the water rates by much more to continue to maintain the aging system that is in need of repairs.

“In order for us to pay for the infrastructure needs over the next decade, we would need to increase the rates by 15 to 20 percent every year,” said Erik Janas, deputy county administrator for Franklin County. “We have held rates over the last three years and have kept increases consistent with Columbus, which is 2 to 3 percent. This has resulted in us falling further behind.”

Janas added that the commissioners have agreed to fund $2.5 million a year over four to five years, which equals approximately $15 million for continued maintenance of the aging system.

“Columbus has agreed to sit down and discuss how we can partner to maintain the system long-term,” Janas said. “We don’t know what that means yet and it is very complicated. We have to discuss coming up with an agreement that wouldn’t include annexation.”

However, before the county or Columbus will discuss this partnership, the county needs to review all their assets and thoroughly examine the current water system and what improvements need to be made.

“We plan on putting out an RFP (request for proposal) for a contractor to take a look at our system and examine the age and condition of it,” Renner said. “We are going to send cameras through and really examine it. We need to see how the system is, as well as what assets before we can have a conversation with Columbus. Columbus also wants to know what investments they will have to make in the system before we have a sit down.”

Many residents said this isn’t good enough and wanted to know when they would see a difference in their water bills.

“This is not the first meeting we have had with you related to this issue,” said Nicole Alfred, township resident. “We are grateful you are having conversations with Columbus, but this is a long-time coming and we need to see actual changes made.”

County representatives said it could take at least a year to thoroughly examine the existing system, so residents won’t see water rate changes for a while.

“At the end of the day, we have infrastructure improvements that need to be made,” said Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce. “We are trying to solve a problem that originated years ago. I can’t say we will solve this tomorrow, but we understand the urgency. You have my word we are doing our best to solve this.”

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