Warren, county settle sewer rate dispute

Resolution will mean higher bills for non-Warren customers

WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners and the mayor of Warren ended a dispute about rates for the city to treat sanitary sewer waste from county customers in some parts of Lordstown and Champion after a county judge told them they shouldn’t leave a mediation session until they worked out a deal.

The solution led to concessions by both sides and spells out an increase for people in the Trumbull County Metropolitan Sewer District. The exact amount of the increase is not cemented yet because the county is going to perform a rate study, according to Gary Newbrough, deputy sanitary engineer.

Trumbull County was paying 30 percent of the rate Warren residents individually pay to have the waste treated. They were willing to go up to 60 percent in negotiations, at first, said Dan Polivka, county commissioner. The city wanted the county to pay 150 percent of the Warren residential rate, which is $3.48 per 100 cubic feet.

The two sides ended the case by settling on the county paying 75 percent of the Warren residential rate over the next 10 years.

Customers could see a 20-percent increase in their bills as a result, but the exact number isn’t certain yet, Newbrough said. The county will probably spread the cost over the entire district instead of putting it squarely on the affected customers. The last time there was a rate increase was in 2013, he said. An average bill in the district is about $40, Newbrough said.

“There are probably going to be some rate increases in Trumbull County. (The solution) is a good thing, but for communities it is going to be an expensive one,” said Frank Fuda, Trumbull County commissioner.

The amount will translate to a bill about $1.5 million per year more for the county, at least at first.

Newbrough said he is in the preliminary stages of working on a plan to reduce the amount of “inflow and infiltration” in the system. “I and I” is water that ends up in the treatment plant that doesn’t even need treated. It gets into the system because spouts and footer drains in older homes are connected to the sewer system, sending rain water into the pipes, or because the rain gets into the older pipelines.

“That was one of the sticking points,” Newbrough said.

The county is paying Warren to treat the water, but can’t bill its customers.

Warren officials argued the “I and I” coming from the area was straining their treatment center and wanted the county to fix it.

Newbrough said he is looking for funding to disconnect the homes’ drains and spouts from the sanitary sewer lines. The fix has the potential to save the county on its future bills, Newbrough said.

The deal is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018, and the county will adjust what it paid for its 2018 bills and 2019 bills to reflect the new rate, Newbrough said.

Working out the issue in mediation means the county and city will both save on legal bills, Polivka said. The county spent less than $10,000 on the issue. The city spent around $30,000, said Mayor Doug Franklin.

Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald J. Rice told city and county officials during their last mediation session that they weren’t going to leave the room until they reached an agreement, Franklin said.

The city filed suit against the county when negotiations hit a wall in November. A 20-year agreement ended at the end of 2017.

Polivka and Franklin thanked each other for giving concessions and thanked members of their own negotiating teams, which included Newbrough on the county side and Ed Haller, director of the city’s Water Pollution Control Department.

“This was a win-win, it is a fair and equitable agreement,” Polivka said.

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