A split vote on a resolution authorizing the city to use bond proceeds to finance a new water treatment plant has thrown a monkey wrench into Groveport's schedule for getting its water system up to EPA standards.
During the Feb. 24 city council meeting, members voted 3-2, with Councilwoman Donna Drury absent, to approve a resolution allowing city officials to use bond proceeds of no more than $2,187,900 to build a new water treatment plant.
However, even though most members present voted in favor, the city charter says four votes are required to enact a resolution.
Last week's action brought longstanding opposition to the project by council members Ed Dildine and Jean Ann Hilbert to the fore.
The Ohio EPA told city officials in 2009 that Groveport's water plant, built in 1936, no longer met water safety regulations. The debate over whether the city should build a new plant or join the city of Columbus water system has gone on since 2012, when a feasibility study was done.
Dildine and Hilbert have consistently voted against the construction of a new water plant, in favor of joining the city of Columbus system. They also have voted against water rate increases to pay for the project; those increases began in 2012 and are scheduled to go up by 96 percent over a six-year period.
"If the past votes on this subject were to be an indication, then the vote probably would have been 4-2 in favor of the resolution (had Drury been present)," Dildine said. "Having two different municipality water divisions servicing Groveport makes no sense to me. More than half of Groveport is already on Columbus water and all of the sewer service is through Columbus."
Currently, about 1,200 Groveport residents receive their water through the city, while another 1,500 Groveport residents receive their water through a contract with Columbus.
All Groveport residents currently receive sewer services through a contract with Columbus.
At this point, the city is liable for about $200,000 in engineering and permit expenses related to preliminary planning efforts for the new water plant. The resolution was brought to council for action Feb. 24 by city officials in preparation for an anticipated late March construction bid award, which now must be postponed.
"The Ohio EPA isn't going to allow us to continue operating the way we have been," City Administrator Marsha Hall said. "We have to either build a new plant or contract with the city of Columbus.
"Even if we contract with the city of Columbus, there's still a cost to do that switch, so the rate increases we've started will be necessary either way and the money we've already spent will come from the current water funds."
Hall said that for now, the city will delay the bid opening until April 4, giving her time to work with city council to resolve the conflict before council takes another vote on this resolution or a new one at its March10 meeting.
Mayor Lance Westcamp said he was disappointed that the process had been derailed this far into it. He said he believes if residents are as strongly opposed to the water plant project as Dildine and Hilbert suggest, a referendum would have been put on the ballot.
However, Hilbert responded that she has had many residents call her directly with their concerns, which is why she continues to fight the plan.
"I have had many residents call, concerned about the rate increases that 1,200 customers have to shoulder," she said. "The rates now are already steep so I don't know how we can afford Groveport water -- that is why I voted no."