The city of Bexley is monitoring how local residents' water bills could be affected by a proposed amendment to the state biennial budget that seeks to keep Columbus from charging higher prices to suburban water customers.

State Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) said he introduced the Clean Water, Fair Pricing amendment to the state's biennial budget to make water prices equal for both residents in Columbus city limits and those who live in suburbs like Bexley who get their water and sewer services from Columbus.

Columbus oversees the water system for much of the region, with most communities buying water from the city. A typical water customer in Columbus pays about $459 per year, compared with $597 for a suburban water customer. The city charges outside customers about 1.3 times more for water than those who live in Columbus because voters have agreed that the city can levy property taxes within Columbus to make up the difference should rates not meet costs, said Rick Westerfield, water administrator for Columbus.

The city has never had to do that, but taxpayers are bearing that risk on bonds that contribute to economic development around the county, not just in Columbus, he said.

Kessler said he's spoken with Duffey about the amendment proposal and has concerns that it may have unintended consequences, such as causing Columbus to raise its water and sewer rates across the board.

"It's more nuanced than what it might seem on the surface," Kessler said during Bexley City Council's May 9 meeting.

The Ohio House of Representatives approved the Clean Water, Fair Pricing Amendment on May 2 as part of a $63.7 billion, two-year state budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. In a post on his Facebook page, Duffey said he's drafting an updated amendment proposal for the Ohio Senate, but the proposal's fundamentals will essentially stay the same.

If approved by the Ohio Senate on June 21 and signed by Gov. John Kasich by June 30, the amendment proposal would do the following:

* Require the city of Columbus to equalize its water and sewer rates among Columbus and non-Columbus residents.

* Create a regional authority to resolve disputes over water and sewer issues between Columbus and suburbs and townships.

* Prevent Columbus from requiring a municipality to agree to annexation or revenue sharing as a condition of providing water or sewer service.

* Allow municipalities to seek competitive water and sewer rates in surrounding counties.

As of Jan. 1, Bexley raised its water and sewer rates by 3 percent to correspond with an increase instituted by Columbus. Bexley's current rate is $57.88 per 1,000 cubic feet for water while the previous rate was $56.20 per 1,000 cubic feet, and $71.58 per 1,000 cubic feet for sewer service, previously $69.50 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Whether the Clean Water, Fair Pricing Amendment ends up in the final version of the state's budget, the issue has created an opportunity to explore options with Columbus, Kessler said.

"It opens up a really good opportunity for us to talk about rates to Columbus," Kessler said.

"The suburbs are in a non-negotiating position, so it does give us an opportunity to say, 'Let's talk a little bit more about how those rates are calculated,' regardless of whether this (amendment proposal) goes anywhere," he said.

Columbus Dispatch reporter Rick Rouan contributed to this story.

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