Business promises better customer relations
A customer-focused mission with more of a personal touch: That is what new Aqua Ohio Inc. area manager Greg Odell said will be different now that his company has replaced what used to be Ohio American Water.
Odell appeared before the Madison Township Board of Trustees on July 11 to introduce himself and to explain a shift in his company's business approach compared to Ohio American Water (OAW). He said an emphasis will be placed on more straightforward communication with customers, in addition to "more personal attention, oversight and action."
Aqua Ohio purchased OAW last May for $101 million in cash and an assumed debt of $11 million. In June, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved a rate increase for water and sewer service that allows Aqua Ohio to generate an additional $4.2 million annually.
As a result of the rate hike, Odell said the average residential monthly water usage charge for Madison Township customers will increase by $5.61 and the sewer usage charge will go up by $1.91.
"In Blacklick Estates, the average customer's monthly bill will increase by (a total of) $6.56 a month. It's still an increase, but not what the customers would have seen if we hadn't gotten involved," he said.
Odell said Aqua Ohio committed to a decrease in the monthly service charge to $8.55 per month from $9.51. He said OAW, in comparison, had requested the PUCO approve increasing the service charge to $11.50 a month.
"Our rates are currently in line with the (Franklin) county rates," Odell said. "They just raised their rates; for the average customer, they pay the same rate."
He said Aqua Ohio will continue to address infrastructure improvements while trying to avoid any additional rate hikes by keeping costs manageable.
"We're really trying to get a handle on costs and improve customer service," he said. "We reduced (our) central Ohio office staff because we thought we could enhance customer interaction in other ways."
He also said payments previously handled at the Aqua Ohio office can now be made at local Kroger and Giant Eagle supermarkets through a new agreement the company has with Western Union.
Odell assured the trustees that Aqua Ohio, now Ohio's largest private water utility, remains committed to the Blacklick Estates service area. He said Aqua Ohio is planning to replace water mains on Negley, Talford and Tremaine courts and will conduct a study "from the ground up to find the most appropriate methods and find funding options to look at (water) softening and improve the quality of water in Blacklick Estates."
One of the stipulations ordered by the PUCO in the rate hike case was that Aqua Ohio must do a study regarding water quality issues in Blacklick Estates, he said.
Trustee Victor Paini said poor water quality has been an issue in Blacklick Estates for the past 25 years.
"Results matter. We're going to hold your feet to the fire," he said.
After the meeting, Paini said he plans to help reorganize a "resident's advisory panel" to evaluate Aqua Ohio's performance in the areas of water quality, customer service and cost management.k