A tight economy and a sluggish home construction market has the village of Lithopolis considering adding a monthly $25 water availability charge to customers’ water bills in order to meet the debt service payments on the village’s water plant.
At Lithopolis Village Council’s Sept. 9 meeting, council heard the first reading of an ordinance to enact the water availability charge.
"We have a water plant with the capacity to pump 500,000 gallons a day, but it’s only pumping about 16 percent of that," said Mayor Eric Sandine. "We need to be pumping 50 percent in order to make the debt service payments (on the plant). We need to sell more water."
According to the proposed water availability charge legislation, council believes the information the village’s previous engineer provided about the construction and financing of the new water plant and tower in 2002 "was faulty" and that the financial projections "were unsustainable…and there was no room for a reduction in new home construction. Council depended upon this information in securing the Ohio Water Development Authority (OWDA) loan and with the near total collapse of the new home market, the village is now unable to make the substantial debt service payments required by the 2003 contract with OWDA."
"We would need around 1,200 new homes to carry the debt service," said Sandine. "We wouldn’t be in this situation if the previous village administration had not made the decision (to build and finance the new water plant). We wouldn’t have needed a 500,000 gallon a day capacity for a village of 350 people…The construction of new homes is not going to pick up in the next two or three years."
Lithopolis’ $3 million OWDA loan for the water plant was originally a 20 year loan that earlier this year was amortized into a 30 year loan to help the village make its payments.
About the water availability charge
The proposed $25 per month water availability charge would be assessed to every platted and separately numbered parcel of land within Lithopolis as well as village water users outside the village limits. The charge "is not related to the use of water service and does not rely on occupancy of the premises to be in effect…"
Lithopolis water users are billed monthly and the $25 charge would be a flat fee added on top of the customer’s normal usage bill.
Lithopolis’ water usage rate is $6 per 1,000 gallons with no minimum. The per gallon rate was raised to its present level last January, which was the village’s first water rate increase in 15 years.
"The $25 amount is needed for us to tackle the debt service. It’s the absolute minimum we need to get by," said Sandine. "It distributes costs among every parcel in the village. A developer is going to have to pay for those empty lots. Development has to pay its own way."
Sandine and council members noted that an OWDA representative came to the July council meeting and told village officials that either Lithopolis take action or the OWDA would regarding the debt service payments.
"Either we do something now or they (OWDA) will," said Sandine. "They could take us to court and make us raise our water rates and that would mean raising them much higher than the $25 water availability charge we’re proposing."
"They (the OWDA) could triple it," said Councilwoman Ginger Brenning.
An unidentified citizen at the meeting unhappy with the proposed water availability charge stated, "I think you’re pricing people out of town. It’s the beginning of the end for anything in Lithopolis."
"We’re doing the best we can for you," replied Brenning. "We (council) live here. We’re paying it, too."
Added Councilwoman Linda Deem, "We’re spreading it (the charge) around to include the undeveloped developments."
Village officials have explored selling water to Groveport, Canal Winchester, and Fairfield County to generate revenue.
Village Administrator Ed Van Vickle said Groveport was not interested.
"Groveport has money. If they want to build a water plant they can because they have a huge industrial base. We don’t," said Van Vickle.
Fairfield County and Canal Winchester remain possibilities as water customers for Lithopolis. Sandine said Lithopolis has a 12 inch water line that runs up to the Canal Winchester village limits.
Van Vickle said ideally water systems would be like the interconnected electric grid between communities. He said if Lithopolis could tie into Canal Winchester it could sell its water as far as Pickerington.
However, when it comes to water, he said, many communities tend to look inward for local control.
Council will hear the second reading of the water availability charge ordinance at its Oct. 14 meeting.