Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Reasons and Effects of the Athens Water Hike

Brian Boesch

The city of Athens has the legal right to increase the fees required to hook into its water and sewer system, Athens County Common Please Judge Michael Ward ruled this week. There will be a hearing Nov. 17 to decide how much money can be added to the original fees.

The debate began in 2008 when Les Cornwell, the developer who controls Cornwell Realty, filed a lawsuit against the proposed increase. He filed suit after getting a bill for his property, Palmer Place of Athens, well above his normal hook-up water bill.

The money needed has nothing to do with an increase in the volume of water used. Instead, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency told the city that it has to upgrade its water and sewer set-ups.

"It's about a circa-1950 structure there that's been retrofitted a couple times at different technologies," Athens mayor Paul Wiehl said in his weekly news conference Wednesday afternoon. "So we have to anticipate that things are going to cost more and we're going to have to fix them."

Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl discusses the necessary changes to Athens' water and sewer systems

Is Personnel an "Impact" Cost?
The argument in the Cornwell lawsuit is with the reasoning behind the increased water hook-up fees. There was no significant difference in the volume of water used at Palmer Place when Cornwell received the higher bill, according to the Athens News.

However, the city is citing increased personnel costs for future repair as the reason for higher water and sewer hook-up bills.

"Increased cost in terms of personnel, which usually, if you really look at it, is the larger portion of operation, is always going up," Wiehl said.

Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl discusses the personnel costs associated with the water and sewer systems repairs

How the Increased Prices Affect Developers and Buyers
With the economy already struggling, one concern is the effect the water hook-up cost increase will have on development in Athens.

Mayor Wiehl thinks that the challenges for finding available land will deter development more than any water hike.

"It's a fairly small piece of the puzzle," Wiehl said. "It depends on the house you build."

As for buyers and renters, Wiehl says the extra price may eventually be the buyers' or renters' responsibility.

Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl talks about the ramifications for buyers and renters

Les Cornwell and his lawyer Gerald Mollica were unavailable for comment.

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