Hamilton County commissioners delay vote on sewage rate increase

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Hamilton County residents are facing an 8-percent hike in their sewer rates to pay for extensive improvements to the Metropolitan Sewer District or MSD.

The improvements are required by a federal mandate. MSD must build separate systems for handling storm water runoff and sewage. The project carries a $3.5 billion price tag.

Former city councilman Jeff Berding says rate payers are being taken for a ride.  He says, "It's not just to keep sewage out of our rivers, there's also community enhancements that can be piggy backed on that project. The taxpayers can't afford it. The enhancements are nice, but there's very little sensitivity to what the rate payers can afford."

County Commission President Greg Hartman says the rate hike will be voted on next week, but he says there will be more hikes in the future.

"This is a long term fix and a long term, and you're looking at rate increases into the future and we're very concerned about what that does as far as livability and affordability for a county like ours," he said.

Commissioner Todd Portune went to Washington Wednesday to address a congressional subcommittee and to ask for federal help.

"What we presented to the congressional subcommittee...was how expensive that is, how impossible it is to maintain that kind of rates and expenditures in this economy to do the kind of fixes we've been asked to do without getting some federal assistance and or without getting some flexibility in terms of approach," he said.

Marilyn Wall with the Sierra Club says she'd like to see some relief for low income rate payers. She says, "If you're making only $18,000 a year, maybe you're on social security or retired, you're paying about three and a half percent in 2011 for your sewer bill and that's only going to go up."

Todd Portune admits he didn't get any promises of federal assistance, but he says subcommittee members did appear to be sympathetic toward the plight of cities faced with unfunded mandates.

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