Bill takes aim at water, sewer pricing policies

Larry Limpf

A bill pending in the state legislature that sets limits on how municipalities price their water and sewer services sold to users outside their borders has drawn the support of the Ohio Township Association, which contends township residents are often hit with excessive rates for water and sewer service.
The House Public Utilities Committee heard proponent testimony earlier this month on House Bill 163.
The bill creates a process for municipalities to be penalized if they charge higher rates not justified by generally accepted municipal water pricing practices or for requiring direct payments as a condition of providing the service in excess of the costs for extending the service.
Under the bill, local government funds earmarked for the municipalities in violation of the bill’s provisions would be redistributed to the jurisdictions affected by the improper pricing policies. Non-compliant municipalities would also be barred from qualifying for state water and sewer development assistance.
“At issue here are the strings that are often attached to water and sewer services extended beyond a municipal border and the discrepancy in rates charged for these services,” Matthew DeTemple, executive director of the township association, told the committee. “Today, only townships that have enacted limited home rule government pursuant to Ohio Revised Code may provide water and sewer services to their residents, thus the growth of townships depend on the availability of septic systems. All local governments should have the authority to offer water and sewer services to their residents or, at the very least, facilities built wholly or partially with federal or state funds should be available to all people who live in the service area regardless of the jurisdiction in which they reside.”
HB 163 mirrors a bill offered in the previous general assembly, HB 602, that didn’t make it to a floor vote. The previous bill would have penalized municipalities for requiring land to be annexed in exchange for extending water or sewer service.
HB 163 doesn’t address forced annexation but DeTemple encouraged the committee to consider addressing the issue in the new bill.
“The OTA strongly believes that municipalities should not be able to force annexation in exchange for services,” he said.
Kent Scarrett, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League, said he plans to provide opponent testimony to the committee on HB 163.
He also testified in opposition to HB 602, telling the House Finance Committee it “is a preemption that will prevent municipalities from utilizing local research, best practices and data analysis to set local water rates when that municipality develops, installs and maintains water and sewer infrastructure to a neighboring township,”


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