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Central Ohio Group Issues

This was published in the January 2004 issue of the Ohio Sierran

Columbus Sewer Rates Increase, Lack Accountability


On Nov. 24, 2003, Columbus City Council passed a measure that increased sanitary sewer rates by 9.5%, water rates 7.25%, and storm sewer rates by 5% for 2004. The Sierra Club does not oppose a rate hike in principle. Fair rate increases will be necessary to address the serious problem of sewer overflows in Central Ohio. The Sierra Club strongly voiced its opinion, which was well covered in The Columbus Dispatch, that there should be no blank checks, and that the City must adhere to 3 major principles:

  1. Responsibility to Sewage-In-Basement Sufferers: Easy access must be made for the public to get Sewage-In-Basement information by way of an emergency number listing. Rate increases must be tied to full, prompt, and open coverage of basement backup damages for which the city is responsible. (Of the sewer increase, $4 million has been earmarked for backup victims in 2004.)

  2. Accountable Sewer Rates: There should be no sewer rate increase without a 15-year plan for the elimination of CSOs, SSO overflows, and full treatment of all sewage. A plan must include public comment.

  3. Fair Development: Developers must pay the full cost of all sewer line extensions, without any full or partial offset from the city.

Notice was first given on the proposed increase when the agenda came out for the City Council meeting of Nov. 17, one week before the vote. A poorly publicized hearing was held 2 days later, and comments were limited to 3 minutes. This process did not educate Council on the wider public’s concerns.
Columbus had to pass a rate increase in 2003 in order to have the money for 2004. So why was this not brought up before Council earlier in the year? Could it have been that since time was short, council could not require an in-depth look at how the money would be spent?

While big increases are needed for sanitary sewers, almost-as-large increases were approved for water and storm sewers. Utilities needs to account for the spending of increased water and storm sewer rates as well as sanitary sewers. For instance, an unnecessary, expensive and environmentally disastrous project, the Big Walnut Raw Water Line, can now be funded with the increase in water rates.

Utilities wants rate increases yearly through 2010. The overall proposed increases would be 62%. To their credit, at the Nov. 24 meeting Councilwoman Maryellen O’Shaughnessy asked Utilities Director Cheryl Roberto about the Sierra Club’s concerns, and Councilman Kevin Boyce said that before rate increases are approved next year, he wanted to see more accountability.

On Nov. 24, 2003, Columbus City Council passed a measure that increased sanitary sewer rates by 9.5%
Notice was first given on the proposed increase... one week before the vote.

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