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State should limit water surcharges

About 1,500 water customers who live or do business in Liberty Township are getting caught in the middle of a legal — and political — issue that is driving up the cost of their drinking water significantly due to laws that allow unlimited surcharges to be tacked onto the utility.

The fees are so high, in fact, that some Liberty Township water users are saddled with the

second-highest water rates in the state of Ohio.

Former Liberty Trustee Jodi Stoyak and her husband Stephen Stoyak long have been beating the drum on this injustice, and more recently, Trumbull County commissioners considered intervening. While commissioners are aware of the problem, it seems they have little interest in diving into it, and frankly, even if they did, they’d have no legal standing to correct the wrong.

It’s a battle that must be taken up by our state Legislature in Columbus.

As it is now, state law allows a 40 percent surcharge any time an entity sells water outside its limits. Unfortunately, there is no regulation that prevents these charges from being stacked if the water travels through multiple sources.

Water is shuffled through pipes owned by numerous other entities, with each taking its cut by tacking on a surcharge. In this instance, Liberty users are at the end of the line.

While Trumbull County water customers pay $8.22 per thousand gallons, about 1,500 users in Liberty who buy their water from Girard pay $17.35 per thousand gallons.

Girard buys its water from outside sources that upcharge the city, too. Girard users pay $12.39 per thousand gallons.

The Stoyaks first began raising awareness of the issue with commissioners and the county sanitary engineer’s office in 2019, hoping for a solution before county agreements with Girard expired. The couple asked the county to explore taking over the waterlines that Girard uses to bring water to the 1,500 Liberty residents.

That set off some political discourse.

As expected, Girard city officials have no interest in giving up these customers, and commissioners and the sanitary engineer’s office are concerned that going toe-to-toe with Girard on the issue could lead to problems with the contract between the county and Girard for sewage treatment.

“If we go in and try to take over the Girard water system, there will be repercussions for our sewer agreements, and those repercussions could be devastating to the sewer district,” explained Gary Newbrough, head of Trumbull County’s sanitary engineering department.

Sadly, the current Liberty Township trustees have been noticeably silent on this issue, even though it affects hundreds of their constituents.

The Liberty-Girard 20-year water agreement expired last year, but it was extended until next month.

Undoubtedly, local politics over the sale of this water could get ugly and probably will lead to nowhere. That’s why we believe the best route to reduce the unfair rates is to explore state legislation that regulates the amount of fees that can be tacked onto the utility.

We are extremely disappointed that the issue has been raised for some two years with no resolution. Now, with only a month to go on the extended contract, officials are exploring a resolution by planning a meeting with local state legislators.

This system is not only unfair to water users forced to pay outrageously high rates each time they turn on their bathroom faucet, it also serves as an economic development deterrent for businesses considering a move to that area.

There can be no debate that these utility users are being taken advantage of. Clean and affordable potable water should be a right. This is America, after all. Ohio legislators must address this issue in Columbus. We suggest that be done by capping the amount of fees that can be tacked onto water purchases.

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