Prairie Township residents concerned about high water and sewer rates will have a chance to make their voices heard at a meeting this month.
Representatives from the Franklin County commissioners' and sanitary engineering offices are expected to attend the meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at the Westland High School auditorium, 146 Galloway Road.
Trustees continue to hear from residents served by Franklin County's system who pay higher average bills than neighbors served by other utilities.
Franklin County serves about 6,000 township customers total, providing either water or sewer service or both. The majority -- about 3,800 Prairie Township residents -- get both services from the county, said Stephen Renner, director of Franklin County's Department of Sanitary Engineering.
Officials say the county's fees are high, in part, because the system is old and sprawling in a "noncontiguous" layout with fewer customers to sustain it.
It also must account for any increases passed along by the city of Columbus. The county, like most area suburbs, buys its water from the city but is responsible for other costs, including maintenance.
In 2012, the county increased its water rates by 30 percent and sewer rates by 9 percent to help pay for years of neglected maintenance. Since then, county commissioners have generally passed along rate increases from Columbus.
A rate increase of 3 percent -- 1 percent in water rates, and 2 percent for sewer -- went into effect this year.
Renner said about 52 cents of every dollar collected by his department goes to pay Columbus for water.
"That's over half of every dollar, so any type of movement that the city puts on the cost, it diminishes what's left over," he said. "We have to at least match that rate increase (from Columbus) so that I can be sure I'm paying the bills."
Water is measured and billed by centum cubic feet (CCF). One CCF equals about 748 gallons.
Franklin County charges about $5.87 per CCF for water and about $8.14 per CCF for sewer services. That's on top of quarterly base rates of $52 for sewer service and $53.48 for water.
The county's average quarterly residential usage is about 19 CCFs of water, with an average bill for both sewer and water totaling $371.67.
A household in the city of Columbus using 20 CCFs would have an average quarterly bill of about $205.09. In Grove City, the average bill is $233.32 and in Hilliard, it's $249.07, according to 2018 residential figures supplied by Columbus.
Prairie Township trustee Chairman Steve Kennedy said he believes the average township resident uses less water than what the county cites as its average bill.
"If you don't use any water, you still get a $110 bill just for the connection," Kennedy said. "With that amount on the bill, there's no incentives for our residents to try to conserve."
The county offers a rate reduction of up to 20 percent on usage rates, based on income. There is no discount offered on the base fees, Renner said.
Kennedy said high water bills are the "No. 1" complaint heard from residents, but the township's hands are tied.
"The township trustees are in a really hard place," he said. "We have zero decision-making abilities about water and sewer rates."
A 2014 study conducted by Raftelis Financial Consultants Inc. found that Franklin County has an "atypical operating and maintenance environment, significant capital pressures and a customer base with limited expectations for growth.
"The combined impact of these issues results in increases to customer rates and charges at a rate that may be untenable, given the current level of rates and charges and existing customer base," the study said.
The study also identified more than $100 million in capital infrastructure needs over the next 10 years.
The study "is paramount," Renner said. "We have an old infrastructure in these noncontiguous areas, increasing costs to maintain them ... and the increasing regulatory pressure."
Township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker said the township continues to work with stakeholders.
"We are grateful for the fact that they're (county officials) coming, and we understand that they are in a very difficult position," Hatmaker said. "I know there is a lot of passion out there about this issue so we're looking forward to having the county here."
Visit tinyurl.com/y9636bn9 or call 614-525-3940 for more information on the county's bill-assistance program.