Hamilton County Commissioners approve monthly billing for sewer statements

Hamilton County Commissioners approve monthly billing for sewer statements
Posted at 4:07 PM, Sep 07, 2016

CINCINNATI -- No, your sewer bill isn’t getting smaller.

But the shock of opening up your Metropolitan Sewer District statement might subside a bit soon.

Nearly all of Hamilton County’s sewer customers get a quarterly bill -- a practice critics say unfairly causes sticker shock for rate payers every three months. Hamilton County Commissioners agreed Wednesday to charge consumers every month instead. The change might happen as early as October.

“Moving to monthly billing is one of the no-brainer items that will allow people to budget for these bills a lot better,” Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said. “It’s an easy thing -- it will help people in terms of saving a little bit of money on their own.”

Monthly billing is the first step in a series of sewer affordability recommendations that have been sitting on the three commissioners’ desks since May. The average Hamilton County resident pays close to $800 every year for sewer services -- an amount that has jumped 128 percent during the past decade.

As WCPO first reported in May, a task force– made up local business and nonprofit leaders – released a series of ideas to ease soaring sewer bills.

Among their findings:

  • As sewer rates climbed, neither city nor county leaders moved to establish bill payment assistance for low-income residents, as other major metropolitans around the state have done.
  • The county should consider a one-time assistance program for sewer rate payers who fall on a financial hardship, such as a job loss or home foreclosure.
  • Sewer bills should be sent monthly, not quarterly.
  • The current payment plan for residents who could not afford their quarterly bill is not well-advertised and requires a money deposit.

Little action had been taken on the proposals until Wednesday, when Portune pitched the proposal again.

It’s still unclear how quickly the billing cycle can be changed; the county passed a resolution directing the city, which manages the sewer district, to start processing monthly bills as soon as possible, preferably October.

“They should do what we ask them to do -- that’s the whole point,” Hamilton County Commission President Chris Monzel said of the city. He believes the new billing system could be implemented by the beginning of the year.

Monzel said he believes any new costs from the monthly billing change -- such as extra postage -- will be minimal.

But in a statement Wednesday, city leaders said they weren’t planning on starting monthly billing until next spring and were still studying costs associated with the change.

“Prior to implementation, configuration of a new billing system, programs costs and extensive testing of the new monthly rates is underway,” Cathy Bailey, the Cincinnati Water Works Director, said in a statement. “We are also awaiting the results of the cost-of-services study, now in progress.”

While county commissioners are pushing for the billing change, other affordability measures are still on hold.

Some, including the low-income assistance program, might come with an added price tag. Commissioners promised Wednesday to look at those costs during a meeting next month.

“We’ve had these recommendations since the middle of May,” Portune said. “It’s a long time. We need to give ratepayers relief. Frankly, we should be in a position where we can get them relief today.”