MOUNT VERNON — The Clinton Township Water District is in negotiations with the city of Mount Vernon to discuss options that could bring some relief to township residents in the form of reductions in water and sewer rates.
“We are trying to come up with a solution that is best for Clinton Township,” said John Holland, president of the CTWD, in a press conference Monday night attended only by the Mount Vernon News.
Although Holland and CTWD board member Don Durbin were not open to discussing specific details on the negotiations, they did confirm they are working with the city on two different options.
The first option would be to keep the water district in tact but enter into a management agreement with the city. The second option would include dissolving the water district and allowing the city to take total control.
“We really want to do what is right by the people,” Holland said. “We are just running out of options.”
If the decision is made to hand over management of the water district, Holland said a savings of about $40,000 a year could be realized as fees for an attorney, a certified public accountant and insurance would be eliminated and absorbed by personnel and policies already in place in the city. In addition, Holland and Durbin are both hopeful a reduction in the 40 percent surcharge for Clinton Township residents would be realized.
“We are trying to reduce that percentage as part of the deal. We are hoping at least we can reduce the rate,” Holland said.
Financially, the water district is barely getting by and currently has only a $9,000 cushion in the budget, Holland said.
“We are working off a narrow margin,” Holland said. “We are not making money; we are just trying to cover the debt.”
The debt currently totals about $5.2 million, down from the estimated $11 million borrowed to fund the water district. Payoff of the loan is expected to take place in 2024, at which time assessments will no longer be charged to water and sewer bills or real estate taxes.
In the meantime, while negotiations continue, the CTWD board is working to lower expenditures for out-of-town services.
“We have an outside law firm and an outside CPA firm; our insurance agent and engineer are from out of town,” Holland said. “So far what we have done as a board is talk to a local law firm. We are in negotiations now to finalize that to represent us as opposed to having an out-of-town firm represent us. We are talking with a local insurance agent to actually take over our coverage here. The CPA we have to keep for a while because we are working on our audits and he is the only one who knows where everything is.”
With zero growth in the township, anticipated tap and hookup fees have been unrealized, foreclosures and bankruptcies continue to rise and delinquent bills make it harder and harder for the district to come up with the money to cover expenses and the loan payment, Holland said.
“I have two income streams. I have real estate assessments and I have quarterly sewer charges,” Holland said. “I only have those two income streams and that has to pay the loan payments.”
The water district has two payments due each year, Jan. 1 and July 1, each at just over $247,000.
Of the 941 customers in the township, Holland said as of July 17, 25 percent of those bills were past due. Bills include the base rate for the city’s service, a 40 percent surcharge to the city, and a $76.95 fee to the water district for debt payoff.
Holland, the senior member of the CTWD, has only been on the board since January. Durbin, district secretary, joined in August while Chris Buttke, treasurer, joined in July. Although the board admits to struggling to understand the original thoughts behind the need for a water district, they said they are doing their best to understand where the district stands and what options are in the best interest of the residents they service.
Don Durbin, CTWD board member, told the News the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency stepped in when it was discovered there was raw sewage sitting on top of the ground in the township many years ago.
“They more or less forced the township to look at ways to take care of the sewer,” Durbin said.
Regardless of the reasons, the men said, it is the duty of the board to figure out the financial aspect of the district and to communicate that information with the residents citing board transparency as a reason for holding a press conference.
“Getting your arms around an elephant is difficult,” Holland said. “But, we are trying.”
Holland said he expects an agreement with the city to be made in 60 to 90 days, but assures Clinton Township residents the board will not make any decisions without their input.
The board invites Clinton Township residents to attend the next CTWD board meeting and discuss any suggestions they might have on how the district can best serve the township. The board meets the fourth Tuesday of every month in the Clinton Township House at 6 p.m. The next meeting will take place on Sept. 28.