By Tim Cox
An expected rise in Celina water rates for city and rural customers likely will put more pressure on Mercer County officials to build their own water system.
Commissioner Jerry Laffin said he expects more urging from eastern Jefferson Township residents for the county to move forward with developing its own water system in the wake of proposed city water rate increases. A previous poll of rural residents buying Celina water showed more than three-fourths of residents favored the county launching its first water treatment facility.
"I expect Celina's rate increases will increase the pressure on us to do something," Commissioner Jerry Laffin said.
Rural water customers pay a 10 percent surcharge on regular city water prices. They also pay a 50-cent per 1,000 gallons surcharge that goes to the county.
Celina officials are considering raising rates about 21 percent over the next six months to meet operational shortfalls with other increases likely to pay for new treatment technology to be installed next year. Rural water customers have pushed county officials to develop their own water system using ground water wells instead of drawing water from Grand Lake. Many of them cited water quality issues involving Celina's drinking water when they filled out survey cards. Commissioners also have cited the need to replace most of the water mains in the rural water district and say the area needs a new water tower.
County officials are awaiting the results of a consultant's study before making their next move. a consulting firm is studying the proposed well field in the state Route 29 corridor to see how it could be maximized, including whether it could produce enough water for the city's needs, too.
Rural water customers make up about 20 percent of Celina's 1.2 million gallon daily water distribution. Losing that customer base almost certainly would result in higher water rates for city customers, city officials have said. That is because most of the costs involved in treating water are fixed, no matter how many gallons are produced. Treatment costs are therefore cheaper as more gallons are treated.
City officials have expressed an interest in resuming joint discussions with the county on the possible creation of a central water system. Before they can focus fully on that goal, however, city officials have said they must work toward bringing the city's water into compliance with Ohio EPA regulations.
The city's levels of trihalomethanes (THM) regularly far exceed allowable limits and the city faces a November 2008 deadline to fix the problem. City officials plan to install granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration to reduce the levels of THMs in the water.
The additional treatment facilities and equipment have been estimated at $2.5 million.
Some rural water customers have said they would rather see their money spent on finding a new water source than helping the city pay for new treatment facilities.
Commissioner Bob Nuding said he believes the county could develop a rural water system in a relatively short amount of time, although likely not before the city's EPA compliance deadline.
However, had city officials moved decisively toward joining with the county when joint discussions started a year ago, things might be different, Laffin said.
"If everybody had come together back then, who knows," Laffin said.