Belmont County Commission Discusses Major Water Project
Belmont County commissioners took steps to secure financing for a proposed water project and answered questions from residents during their regular meeting Wednesday.
Commissioners followed up on an announcement they had made Friday regarding a $60.5 million water project designed to modernize and improve the county’s water system. On Wednesday, they formally adopted a resolution to incur a debt of $45,509,000 and accept grants totaling $14,987,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture for the project. While the loan will be directly through the USDA, the grants are provided through the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program.
All commissioners were at the meeting.
“We believe this is a very important time period for the county in terms of infrastructure and in terms of water and sewer,” said Commissioner J.P. Dutton. “We think we’re now on a path that sustainable.”
Dutton said the 2.3 percent interest rate on the loan is locked in for the next 40 years.
“It allows us to be able to manage that and pay that back,” he said.
During the press conference with USDA Rural Development and other officials, they said the investment represents the single-largest monetary obligation in Ohio’s Rural Development history. Dutton said Tuesday commissioners raised water and sewer rates in June in preparation for the loan. Because of that, the county doesn’t expect to have to raise those rates again.
“This was all worked on in coalition with the USDA so that they know, for the next 40 years, we’re going to be able to make these loan payments and at the same time improve the system,” he said.
Sewer bills went to $25 per month plus $5.75 for each 1,000 gallons treated. The average monthly bill based on 4,500 gallons would be $50.88, while it is $34.88 before the increase. In 2019, it will go to $35 per month plus $6 for every 1,000 gallons, which pushes the monthly average to $62.
Water rates also went to $13 per month plus $4.93 for each 1,000 gallons. On the same 4,500 gallons, that would mean an average bill of $35.19. It was $28.61. In 2019, the minimum goes to $20 plus $5.71 for every 1,000 gallons. That will push the minimum to $45.70.
The upgrades will affect rural areas that do not have their own water treatment facilities. The system will encompass 500 miles of water lines that serve 9,700 rural residents directly. Thousands more are expected to benefit from the upgrades, too, officials have said.
The improvements will include a new water treatment plant that will replace the current one that dates to 1965.
“We have to get our house in order, and this is a big, big chunk of getting our house in order,” Dutton said.
Frank Papini, speaking as president of the local Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, asked commissioners if the loan and grants could result in a reduction of water rates. Dutton said this could not be the case because the federal investment was based, in part, on the rate increase.