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Trumbull set to combine sewer districts

WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners on Wednesday combined its two sewer districts into one.

The Trumbull County Metropolitan Sanitary Sewer District and the Trumbull County Mosquito Creek Sanitary Sewer District are now subdistricts of the Trumbull County Combined Sanitary Sewer District.

Trumbull County sanitary sewer customers shouldn’t notice much of a difference in their bills — if anything, they may include the new name of the district, but there won’t be any rate increase.

While the goal is to have one single rate for customers in both districts by 2026, customers in the Mosquito Creek subdistrict shouldn’t see a rate increase until 2023 at the earliest, and customers in the Metro subdistrict shouldn’t see a rate increase until 2021, said Gary Newbrough, Trumbull County deputy sanitary engineer.

Right now, people in the Metro subdistrict pay $6.66 per thousand gallons of sewage treated and people in the Mosquito Creek subdistrict pay $5.75 per thousand gallons of sewage treated.

“There won’t be a uniform rate right away, but the two subdistricts will be allowed to share funds,” Newbrough said. “For the last three years, Mosquito Creek has had a $1.6 million surplus, but Metro has been running a deficit of about $300,000 a year. Now that we have combined the two districts, we can anticipate a combined surplus of $10 million. With that type of surplus, we really have no reason to increase the rates immediately.”

And the surplus will help the county’s sewer district as a whole withstand new costs and anticipated deficits, Newbrough said.

The closure of General Motors in Lordstown is projected to cost the Metro subdistrict $780,000 in annual revenue, Newbrough said. And, Warren, Youngstown, Niles and Girard are either upgrading their sewage treatment plants or have already. Flow from customers in the Metro subdistrict is taken to those plants, while the Mosquito Creek district has its own treatment plant.

“We will have to pay our fair share for that,” Newbrough said.

The idea of combining the districts first arose publicly when Trumbull County and Warren entered a new contract for sewage treatment, a deal that was going to make it harder for the county to manage the ever-growing costs of the Metro district.

“We feared we were going to have to double the rate for the Metro customers. Now, we can confidently say it will not do that,” Newbrough said.

At the time, before the solution of combining the districts was reached, there were plans to raise rates in the Metro district from $6.66 per to $9.66 this year, and to $11.93 in 2020. The rate in the Mosquito Creek District could have fluctuated from $5.75 to $3.75 this year and to $5.67 in 2020, according to data released by the Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer’s Office.

There are about 13,000 households and businesses in the Metro subdistrict and about 7,800 in the Mosquito Creek subdistrict.

As part of a negotiating tactic, Howland trustees asked township Administrator Darlene St. George to get a guarantee that Mosquito Creek subdistrict customers would get something out of the deal, Trustee Rick Clark said.

Most of the Howland residents who are county customers fall into the Mosquito Creek subdistrict, but there are some in the Metro district, Clark said.

“The county can do whatever they want, the townships aren’t in the sewer business. But we thought we would work with them to strike the best deal for our residents in both districts,” Clark said. “We felt we got the best deal we could for all of our residents. We won’t have any increase at least until 2023 and by 2026 we will all be paying the same rate, so it is equitable for everyone.”

If in 2023, the combined district has a balance over $1.5 million, the county won’t raise rates that year on the Mosquito Creek subdistrict, St. George said. But, if the balance is under $1.5 million, customers will see a .75 cent increase per month, she said.

A rate study is expected to be commissioned through a competitive process by the end of this year, Newbrough said. The study could commence early next year, and it will provide the combined district with the numbers it needs to create a rate raising plan that is not hard on customers but keeps the combined district in the black for the foreseeable future, Newbrough said.

But Rex Fee, Champion trustee, said he feels combiningg the two districts was the wrong way to go.

Although Champion residents who are in the Metro subdistrict will see the benefit of a more gradual rate increase compared to what would have happened if they remained a solo district, Fee worked for decades in the Trumbull County sanitary engineer’s office and believes the Mosquito Creek district should have remained freestanding.

Combining the two districts weakens the Mosquito Creek subdistrict by making it dependent on the negotiations the Metro subdistrict must go through with other sewer districts to have sewage treated, Fee said. Now, if Warren or Youngstown wants to raise rates, customers in the combined district will be hurt, instead of customers in just the Metro subdistrict, Fee said.

“In my opinion, it is shortsighted to take a well-run district and put it into another that is faltering due to poor agreement negotiations,” Fee said.

The deal reached with Warren forces Trumbull County to pay about $1.68 million per year for sewage treatment.

But, Newbrough said, having a combined district means any fluctuations will be spread out over more customers, and therefore have a smaller impact on Trumbull County customers as a whole.

“If we have one larger district, it gives us much more resilience to unexpected costs. Having a combined district lessens the impact on each individual user,” Newbrough said.

The deal is not expected to impact county employment, though it may reduce the time spent on keeping records since there is only one district now, Newbrough said.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said the county commissioners have to look out for the county as a whole.

“As a board, we need to see the bigger picture. We don’t only represent a district, but the county as a whole and we need to do what’s fair for everyone across the board. It doesn’t make sense for us to continue to expand the financial disparity between the two districts in the same county,” Cantalamessa said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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