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Former Water Works head: Plan to hike Hamilton County townships' water bills 'doesn't make sense'

Posted at 11:09 PM, Aug 21, 2018

CINCINNATI -- Dave Rager, who once served as the director of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, spent a Tuesday night meeting of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners poring over his former agency's plan to raise service rates for thousands of customers and disputing its reasoning line by highlighted line.

"It's really unfortunate that we are here at this point," he said. "I am going to walk you through why this doesn't make sense."

Hamilton County residents who live in unincorporated communities -- villages and townships, mostly -- already pay a 25 percent more for water service than those who live in Cincinnati proper. On Aug. 16, Water Works requested City Council pass an ordinance allowing them to raise the rate by an additional 18 percent.

One dollar of water in Cincinnati would become $1.43 in Anderson Township, where trustee Josh Gerth said such a change could have a "regional economic impact."

"I hope it's some oversight on their part because this is ridiculous," he said.

The price hike is a consequence of "risk differences between inside-city and outside-city customers," according to a financial consultant hired by the City of Cincinnati -- in other words, the differing costs of maintaining Water Works infrastructure and carrying water in urban and rural regions.

Rager didn't buy it. The report issued by the consultant, he said, was full of inaccuracies and omissions that led him to question its claims. Even if it's true that the cost of supplying water to West Chester is higher than the cost of doing the same in Reading, he said the agency would benefit from openly sharing the data that led it to settle on the rate increase.

"Where is the data to support that?" He said. "The only communities that are being targeted for this entire multiplier are the townships. Show me the data that demonstrates that Springfield Township is more expensive than Springdale, which is farther away."

Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel, whose colleague Todd Portune had already called the increase "unfair and inequitable," suggested the price hike could be "just a smoke screen to something else."

Rager wouldn't rule it out.

"I have always seen the city and county trading on issues," he said. "Sometimes, the issues are not connected, topic-wise. Maybe the city wants something from the county, and they are trying to create leverage.

"It could be something that has nothing to do with water. I don't know."

If passed, the ordinance would take effect Sept. 1.