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County must intervene in Liberty water issue

DEAR EDITOR:

Thank you for your recent article concerning water rates paid to the city of Girard by approximately 1,500 metered users in Liberty Township. Our rate is the second highest in the state of Ohio based on data provided by the Ohio EPA. This rate is a major deterrent to commercial growth in the township and a significant burden to families in our area, some enduring bi-monthly payments exceeding $300! How does water purchased by the city at $4.77 per thousand gallons end up costing a Liberty consumer $17.35 per thousand gallons?

Early this year, I scheduled and attended several meetings with each of the county commissioners and the sanitary engineer. All individuals were sympathetic to our residents’ plight and commissioners assigned attorney Matt Blair to negotiate rate relief with Girard Mayor Melfi pertaining to expiration of the agreement in May 2020. In one of those early negotiations, Mayor Melfi requested 60 days to research and provide to the county data on infrastructure improvements and associated costs made recently to the Liberty system. After 60 days elapsed, Mayor Melfi provided no information and refused further discussions with attorney Blair.

My most recent meeting with Blair and the sanitary engineer was held in October. In it, Engineer Randy Smith discussed the four options detailed in your recent article. Taking over the system by the county would be, in engineer Newbrough’s words “a slam dunk.” And then, out of the blue, Blair suggests a “bridge agreement” that would extend the current agreement to the end of 2020! He is concerned about the City of Girard holding county sewer users hostage to the city’s loss of revenue should the county take over the Liberty water system! This was never discussed in any previous meeting.

Sen. Sean O’Brien and Col. James Dignan both bemoan in their letters our current paradigm, which includes a patchwork of county-, city- and village-managed systems, little to no comprehensive area-wide capital plan and districts too small to enjoy sufficient economies of scale. Water and sewer service must not be conflated. They must not be viewed as a money maker for the provider and must be operated transparently as revenue-neutral services where rate payers cover operating costs and capital expenses only. It is time for the commissioners to initiate a major shift in behavior in our Valley, cancel the agreement with Girard upon its expiration and take over water service to Liberty Township. The gouging has got to stop.

JODI K. STOYAK

Liberty trustee

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