After several years of discussions, Plain City and Columbus have ended talks surrounding a potential water and sewer partnership.
Plain City Village Administrator Nathan Cahall said the two were not able to come to an agreement because Columbus was unwilling to provide exclusive service areas to the village.
Cahall said the village completed a feasibility study in 2017 that examined the cost over a 20-year period of several options, which were narrowed down to building a new water and sewer facility in the village or contracting with Marysville.
Plain City officials first negotiated with Marysville.
The City of Marysville agreed to freeze rates for 10 years, but would not allow Plain City to keep the one-time capacity fees, or tap fees, that are charged to new customers when they connect to the water and sewer systems.
In the summer of 2017, Village officials then added the option of contracting with the City of Columbus.
In March 2018, then-Village Administrator Kevin Vaughn said contracting with Columbus would initially allow for cheaper rates for residents and Plain City would be allowed to keep capacity fees.
At that time, Vaughn said the decision for the village and the Madison County Board of Commissioners to endorse a petition for the joint water and sewer service partnership included an agreement that Columbus would not annex any of the included land.
Cahall explained that the intention was to create a master service agreement in which the water is provided by Columbus, but Plain City operates collection and distribution.
He said such an agreement would be similar to those Columbus has with other municipalities, like Dublin.
Village administrators were operating with the understanding that Plain City would have an exclusive service area, Cahall said.
However, after multiple requests from the village, he said it still was not incorporated into the agreement.
“Honestly, (the exclusive service agreement) was never formally put in writing by the City of Columbus,” Cahall said.
Earlier this year, Cahall said the village “sensed some hesitation” from Columbus to include the stipulation.
The back-and-forth culminated when Columbus provided Plain City with a sample service agreement that outlined Columbus’ partnership with Gahanna. Cahall said village officials were told it was a “standard template” and Columbus does not allow for exclusive service rights.
Cahall said Plain City and Columbus ended talks soon thereafter.
Failure to include exclusive service rights would have major implications for the village’s growth, Cahall said.
“In terms of managing growth… for development to occur that’s more intensive than a house here or there, water and sewer service is usually a necessary component for robust development,” he said.
For that reason, Plain City was hoping to provide utility services within its corporate boundaries, Cahall said.
If the plan with Columbus was pursued, he said was there was no way to guarantee that the village would not be asked to spend money to connect its utility services with Columbus.
“The village is not going to ask its taxpayers and residents to foot the bill to interconnect our infrastructure systems just to see it used as a vehicle to fuel the growth and expansion of surrounding cities,” Cahall included in a statement shared at the Nov. 13 village council meeting.
Moving forward, Cahall said the village is not pursuing a partnership but instead looking to improve its own infrastructure.
“The village is in the process of implementing plans to upgrade and incrementally increase the capacity of our own utility system,” he said.
Based on the earlier feasibility study, Cahall said this is actually the most cost-effective solution, as there were “non-monetary benefits of a partnership with another provider.”
He said the improvements will take place over a “multi-decade timespan.” He said the goal is to meet the needs of the community as it grows, without having a larger capacity than customer base.
“The idea is to make the upgrades incrementally in a way that it mirrors growth,” he said.
The improvements would take place over an extended period of time, so Cahall said it is difficult now to say how they could affect future rates.
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