Groveport’s plans for a new water plant derailed

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By Rick Palsgrove

Southeast Editor

Groveport City Council fell one vote short of approving financing for the city’s new water plant.

In February, council voted 3-2 to approve an ordinance to use $2.18 million in 20-year bonds or bond anticipation notes to finance construction of the city’s new water plant. However, according to the city charter, four votes are needed to pass legislation, so the ordinance failed.

Voting for financing the water plant were council members Ed Rarey, Shawn Cleary and Becky Hutson. Opposing it were Jean Ann Hilbert and Ed Dildine. Councilwoman Donna Drury was absent from the meeting due to illness.

Mayor Lance Westcamp expressed disappointment in the result of the vote.

“When the legislation to go forward to build the water plant was first passed, the people who opposed it had the chance to bring forth a referendum to challenge it and nobody came forward to do so,” said Westcamp. “We’ve been over and over this water issue for years and now we’re back to square one.”

Groveport Law Director Kevin Shannon said for the financing ordinance to be reconsidered, one of the two council members who opposed it would have to bring it forward again. If not, council could consider proposing new legislation and begin the three reading legislative process again.

There are approximately 1,200 customers on the Groveport city water system and about 1,500 customers in Groveport who are on the Columbus water system, according to Groveport officials.

Next steps

City administrative officials have been working on plans for the water plant since June 2012. That’s when council originally approved going forward to build the water plant by a 4-2 vote with Cleary, then councilwoman Jan Stoots, Drury and Rarey voting in favor of a new water plant while Dildine and Hilbert voted to contract with Columbus for water services.

“We can’t sign a construction contract for the water plant without funding,” said Groveport City Administrator Marsha Hall, who also noted the city has already spent about $200,000 in engineering costs for the proposed water plant and that the construction bid opening for the plant had been scheduled for March 21.

“We have decided to delay both the pre-bid meeting and bid opening by two weeks with pre-bid to be held the week of March 10 and bid opening April 4,” said Hall. “This will allow us the opportunity to try to resolve this through the next council meeting of March 10 without stopping our current bid process.”

Hall said plans had been to begin construction of the water plant in April with the plant expected to be operational by early 2015. She said the water plant would be built between the water tower and the storage barn along South Hamilton Road near the existing water plant.

Hall said the Ohio EPA will require that the city do something about its water situation soon – either build a new water plant or connect to Columbus for water service.

Currently, water rate increases are scheduled for those on the Groveport water system as follows: 20 percent for the first 2014 billing; 20 percent in 2015; 12 percent in 2016; and 3 percent in 2017.

Hall said if Groveport does not build a water plant and connects with Columbus there would still be water rate increases. She said city officials would have to explore the water rate increases the city would have with Columbus, as well as review the connection costs, including pressure release valves. She said Groveport would also have to consider the costs involved in whether to enter a master meter or a full service agreement with Columbus.

Council viewpoints

“I cannot support building a water plant for 1,200 customers who would have to absorb the whole cost of building the plant. People, especially young families and senior citizens, can’t afford these rates,” said Hilbert. “If the entire city were on the Groveport system, then fine, but we shouldn’t have part of the city on Groveport water and part of it on Columbus. It duplicates costs.”

Hilbert believes water rate increases would be lower if a water plant is not built. She also thinks there would be more costs in the future if the Ohio EPA makes more requirements on water plants that would have to be passed on to customers.

“We’d also never be able to expand the customer base for the new water plant significantly,” said Hilbert, noting administrative officials stated there is the potential for about 100 additional future customers for the proposed new water plant.

Hilbert believes the decision on whether or not to build a water plant should be made by a vote of the citizens of Groveport.

Hutson was disappointed the water plant financing hit a snag.

“We’re a city now and we should take control of our own destiny, and control our own water system and our own water rates over time instead of turning control over to an outside government,” said Hutson. “This water is our natural resource. Why give it up to Columbus?”

Hutson said the city has already spent significant time and money in preparing to build the water plant.

“We’re ready to do this,” she said.

Hutson said the current Groveport water increases are also affected by what she termed administrative failures in the past. She noted the water rates had not been increased since 2007.

“Had the water rates been increased incrementally over time, as they should have been, the rate increases would not have had such an impact,” said Hutson.

Dildine wants Groveport to connect to Columbus water.

“It is the most financially responsible, economically feasible, and long term viability solution for our city,” said Dildine. “Having two different municipality water divisions servicing Groveport makes no sense to me. More than half of Groveport is already on Columbus water and all of the sewer lies with Columbus.”

Dildine said any growth or expansion of Groveport would be through the negotiated city of Columbus water agreement.

“Building a water plant to service a small amount of customers with little room for expansion is not being smart with taxpayers’ dollars,” said Dildine. “The customers on Columbus water in Groveport have seen their rates increase 49 percent in 17 years. I believe that is a smart way to do business instead of the way we had to do it by raising our rates 96 percent in six years.”

Cleary noted Groveport’s recent water rate increases are partially the result of past administrative failures to increase rates reasonably when necessary that are now being corrected.

Cleary, whose own Groveport home is on the Columbus water system, said water rates would increase no matter which water system is used and that it would be better to maintain local control. He said his Columbus water rates have gone up 49 percent in 15 years with indications Columbus will continue to raise rates by 3 percent or more each year “to infinity.”

“If we maintain our own water system we can control our rates now and in the future,” said Cleary. “We’re the city of Groveport, not the city of Columbus.”

Rarey said he supports building the water plant because he wants Groveport to maintain independent control of its water system and not be at the mercy of Columbus dictating water rates to Groveport. He said he would be willing to sponsor new legislation to finance the water plant.

 

 

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