A Licking County Common Pleas Court judge ruled last week that the Reynoldsburg school district can get water and sewer services for two new schools on Summit Road from the city instead of the Southwest Licking Community Water and Sewer District.

A Licking County Common Pleas Court judge ruled last week that the Reynoldsburg school district can get water and sewer services for two new schools on Summit Road from the city instead of the Southwest Licking Community Water and Sewer District.

Reynoldsburg City Attorney Jed Hood said the Dec. 14 decision by Licking County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas Marcelain reaffirmed home rule. Hood said since the school site is in Reynoldsburg, the city has the right to provide services to the property.

"The judge entered a directed verdict on behalf of the city saying that we have the constitutional right under the home rule amendment to provide utilities, namely water and sewer, to our residents," Hood said.

"And because this property was annexed properly into the city in 2005, we have the constitutional right to provide services to it and have the right to exclude other service providers from coming into city property and attempting to provide services to our residents," he said.

The school district filed a lawsuit Aug. 21 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, seeking the right to choose a water and sewer provider for the new schools.

The Southwest Licking Community Water and Sewer District then countersued in Licking County, saying it had invested millions of dollars to develop sewer and water lines in the area and could not recoup the investment if Reynoldsburg were allowed to serve the schools.

Marcelain ruled that the city of Reynoldsburg has a right to supply water and sewer services to land it had annexed.

"We're obviously pleased with the court ruling," Reynoldsburg Superintendent Steve Dackin said. "It allows us to choose the provider, which is what we wanted to do all along."

He said the district went to court after receiving a letter from the Southwest Licking Community Water and Sewer District that indicated the schools had to obtain water and sewer services from that entity.

Dackin said he and school officials had compared the cost of obtaining water and sewer service from Reynoldsburg and Southwest Licking, and discovered the Southwest Licking fees and rates would cost the schools about $1-million more over time.

"With the relative fee structure of both providers, currently the city of Reynoldsburg would be more economical to go with," Dackin said. "They already provide all of our water and sewer service to all of our other schools."

Ron Strussion, business manager for the school district, said in August the Southwest Licking Community Water and Sewer District had made no concessions to waive any tap fees.

Strussion said the city of Reynoldsburg offered to waive half the sewer tap fee, which equates to $162,360, and all of the water tap fee, which equals $93,256.

He said the city's water rate is $4.63 per 1,000 gallons and its sewer rate is $5.75 per 1,000 gallons compared to the Southwest Licking water rate of $4.70 per 1,000 gallons and a sewer fee of $8.98 per 1,000 gallons.

Dackin said city officials have indicated they would continue their past practice of waiving the tap fees, which would result in a considerable savings for the district.

"We would stand to save the taxpayer about $600,000 in differential between Southwest Licking and the city of Reynoldsburg just in connection costs -- which is even more significant when I'm facing the prospect of having to cut another $4-million for next school year based on our failed levy in November," he said.

"They've not indicated any reason why they would not continue to do that, so we're operating under kind of a good-faith arrangement that council would waive their portion of the connection fees," Dackin said.

Reynoldsburg City Council must officially approve waiving any fees.

Hood said there have been no discussions yet about waivers, but he sees no reason why council would not give its approval.

Dackin said while the lawsuit in Franklin County is still pending, the district will discuss the situation with its attorneys to decide what direction they should take.

"I'm assuming that the decision by the Licking County court would deal with the challenges that we had, so I don't know what our options are from that point on," he said. "I'm assuming we can move forward and choose a provider and figure out how to plan ahead."