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Hamilton County townships, City of Cincinnati continue battle over water price hike in court

Posted at 10:32 PM, Sep 12, 2018

CINCINNATI -- An 18 percent rate increase for Greater Cincinnati Water Works customers outside the city proper would cost most of them fewer than five dollars extra each month, but feelings on both sides of the issue -- the Hamilton County townships who would be asked to pay more and the Water Works officials arguing for the bump -- are strong.

So strong, in fact, that representatives of the city and county met Wednesday in court to continue the ongoing drama before a judge.

Hamilton County township residents already pay 25 percent more for their water service than customers in Cincinnati, per the contract negotiated by city and county representatives in 1987. The contract had been scheduled to expire Sept. 1, 2018, and Greater Cincinnati Water Works proposed an additional 18 percent hike. 

That would require people living in townships to pay 43 percent more than Cincinnati customers. However, due to a separate contract with some other cities, they would also pay more than certain communities further from Cincinnati.

"They're saying it's more expensive to supply water to Sycamore Township than it is to supply water for Blue Ash or Montgomery, which is totally false," Tom Weidman, a Sycamore Township trustee and president of the Hamilton County Township Association.

Water Works head Cathy Bailey insisted it wasn't. According to a memo she sent to Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney, "city residents pay a disproportionate share of the cost to serve the CWA (County Water Area) residents," which includes funding for water treatment and the infrastructure that transports water to customers.

An 18 percent increase is fair, she and city attorney Scott Cane argued.

It's also, Cane added, not a city organization's responsibility to contract with "nonresident customers," even if they have done so before. 

"Whatever terms the municipality chooses to offer are exclusively reserved for City Council to determine," he said.

Weidman said he and other township residents are ready to seek out different terms by finding an alternative water source if Water Works insists on the hike. 

"It's just not fair, I think," expert Eric Rothstein said.

The issue will return to court Oct. 1.