By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport City Council approved a water rate increase in 2019 for customers on the city of Groveport’s water system.
“With expenses continuing to increase due to inflation, a small increase of 3 percent is recommended for 2019 to stay at least current with our balance in the Water Fund,” according to Groveport City Administrator Marsha Hall.
Hall said it is better to have small periodic water rate increases rather than go years without an increase only to then face a large rate hike later to meet expenses.
The Groveport water rate increase, will be effective with the first billing cycle in 2019 and first be reflected in customers’ April 1, 2019 billing, according to Hall.
When asked what the average dollar amount increase will be for the average water bill, Hall said, “A 3 percent increase would be $8.34, bringing the new average bill for the past 12 months to $286.32.”
There was no Groveport water rate increase in 2018 and the last water rate increase for those on city of Groveport water was a 3 percent hike in 2017.
Part of the city is on the Groveport water system and another part of town is on the Columbus water system. According to Hall, there are 1,213 Groveport water system accounts and 921 Columbus water system accounts in Groveport.
Hall said the City of Columbus Sewer and Water Advisory Board is recommending Columbus City Council enact a 2 percent water rate increase in 2019 for Columbus water customers. Additionally, the city of Columbus provides sanitary sewer service to Groveport and Hall said, “Columbus is currently going through the process of approving a 3 percent sewer usage rate increase for 2019. This will be passed on to all of our customers.”
Hall noted, “While we are currently holding our own for our projected balance (contingency) in the Water Fund for operations of our water plant, our projected expenses for 2019 are also less than 2018 expenses, so any unforeseen large expense would result in a much lower balance going into 2020.”
Since water expenses for 2019 are projected to be less than in 2018, then why is a water rate increase necessary?
“The projected expenses are lower in 2019 due to a lower estimate of contract services,” said Hall. “As warranties at the new plant drop off, we will have additional maintenance contracts in future years. Ohio Senate Bill 2 now requires that all water systems develop an Asset Management Plan that includes five-year funding to adequately fund our water assets. We will need to have available revenue to cover increased contract services and to cover any emergencies that may arise in the operations of the water system.”
Future water department expenses
Groveport City Engineer Steve Farst said some future water expenses will include replacing the old existing 4-inch water lines that remain in some neighborhoods with newer, larger water mains.
Farst said 4-inch water lines on the following streets could be addressed sometime in the next five years: Elm Street, Center Street, and West Street west of College Street; and Elm Street, Walnut Street, and Grove Street east of College Street.
He said streets with 4-inch water mains on the city’s long range outlook that will eventually be replaced due to their age and condition when funded and warranted are Cherry Street from West Street east to Wirt Road; Crooked Alley from Main Street to Cherry Street; Crow Avenue from West Street to its end; and Naomi Court.
Other future water system improvements within the long range outlook include water tank maintenance and a new elevated water tower storage tank (which would give Groveport two water towers again).
“With regard to tank maintenance, this is ongoing in our annual tank maintenance program,” said Farst. “The existing tank is in good condition and is undergoing annual inspections and repairs as necessary.”
Farst said the cost of a new water tower tank has not been confirmed and is subject to further study.
“This project is shown in our five year plan with preliminary engineering to begin in 2022,” said Farst. “The new tank provides more water in elevated storage per an Ohio EPA recommendation and the new tank would also provide for added flexibility in maintaining the existing elevated storage tank, which is 50-years-old.”
Farst said the preliminary engineering work will determine size, estimate cost, and location of a new tank. An updated schedule for its construction would be estimated at that time.
When asked why a second water tower would be needed because Groveport maintains an emergency connection to city of Columbus water lines, Farst said, “Columbus restricts the use of the connection to emergency supply only. Maintenance of elevated storage tanks in Columbus’ view, does not qualify as an activity to allow use of the emergency connection.”
Farst said other future water expenses include maintenance and eventual replacement of various components in the city’s water plant and well field, such as, but not limited to, pumps, motors, vessels, electronics, piping.
“Motors and pumps have an expected useful life and will expire sooner than vessels and piping,” said Farst. “The long range outlook will address these replacement items as appropriate.”
Farst said customer meters were replaced in 2013 and they have an estimated useful life of 20 years.
“These will eventually be plugged into the long range outlook for replacement,” said Farst.
The $2.5 million Groveport water plant opened in 2015. Hall said the water debt is a 30 year debt service.
City council viewpoints
Councilwoman Jean Ann Hilbert, who voted against the 3 percent water rate increase, feels the likelihood of the city adding new Groveport water customers to help share in the system’s costs is “slim to none.”
“We only have about 1,200 customers on the Groveport water system and they have to pay for all this,” said Hilbert in an interview. “Every time there is an added cost the same small number of people have to pay. The EPA forces us to add more and more costs, which are then passed on to the customers. Unfortunately that’s the future from now on.”
Councilwoman Becky Hutson believes there is potential to add more customers to the Groveport water system and that these additional customers would help share in the costs of maintaining the system. She cited the construction of Groveport Senior Village on Hendron Road as a recent example of customers being added to the Groveport water system.
“There’s more growth to come,” said Hutson in an interview. “There’s a lot of viable properties for growth in Groveport and once they are developed they will use the city’s water system. These are commercial properties that, once developed, could use, and pay for, a lot of Groveport water.”
For examples, Hutson cited the future potential development of properties on Main Street including the former used car lot at College and Main streets, the open parcel next to Ace Hardware, and the open parcel beside the Groveport Animal Hospital.