Prairie Township Trustee Steve Kennedy said Franklin County's plans to increase water and sewer rates by 3 percent starting in January are more than just a drop in the bucket for his constituents.
County commissioners are expected to approve the rate changes before the end of December; if the increases aren't on the books in January, budget officials say, Franklin County will fall behind in trying to fix its failing water and sewer lines.
But Kennedy said county water and sewer rates top the list of complaints he and fellow trustees hear from Prairie Township residents, who are still reeling from major fee increases -- 30 percent for water and 9 percent for sewer -- that went into effect in 2012 and upped residents' bills by as much as $180 a year.
He also disputes the county's figures when it comes to the proposed 3-percent rate hike. Officials estimate it will cost the county's 5,800 water and sewer customers an additional $38 a year. Kennedy said most customers in the township use more water than the county cites as an average and will pay almost $55 more per year.
Furthermore, he said, some Prairie Township residents already pay twice as much for water and sewer service as their Columbus neighbors.
"You can walk right down the center of Sullivant Avenue and people on the north side of the street are paying $471 a quarter for their water and sewer service, and people on the south side of the street are paying $278," he said.
This is especially frustrating, he said, because all the water comes from the same place: Columbus.
Columbus water rates won't increase next year, but sewer rates will go up by 2 percent.
Kennedy wants county officials to delay the 3-percent increase for at least a year and to complete a rate study and system survey before they consider raising the rates. He also said he hopes to work with the county to develop an aid program to at least minimize the effect of the rate increase on senior citizens and low-income township residents.
Stephen Renner, director of Franklin County's sanitary engineering department, said the 3-percent increase will bring in about $200,000 that will be used to help secure about $2.6 million in loans to pay for overdue system improvements. The loans will be combined with about $2.5 million in increased sales-tax collections that the county also will spend on water and sewer projects.
Those projects include improvements at several wastewater-treatment facilities and the installation of new water lines. About half the money will be spent on a required inspection of some of the county's 130 miles of sewer lines.
Prairie Township residents Marsha Goble and John Mackie both said the rates make budgeting difficult.
"They're just eating us alive with these water bills," Mackie said.
"Water and sewer service is not an optional expense," Goble said.
Goble organized a meeting in the spring to discuss water and sewer rates. She also organized a campaign that sent hundreds of letters to county commissioners asking for a public meeting, but said she got no response.
County officials said they mailed responses to every resident who sent a letter, explaining the need for the increase.
Goble also said she met with Commissioner Paula Brooks to discuss residents' concerns but said she never heard back from Brooks or county administrators who promised to look into the matter.
Brooks said that's not how she remembers the conversation. Still, she said she will reach out to Goble to explain why the county has to continue to invest in its aging systems, which have been neglected for too long.