The nearly 50-year-old joint agreement to operate the Metropolitan Sewer District is a step closer to ending. Cincinnati City Council and the Hamilton County commission both voted Monday on a commitment letter that spells out how the district will be operated in the future.
Councilman Kevin Flynn says it's only a framework to end the agreement that tied the city and county together. "What we're looking at without a framework is potential litigation. And as many wise lawyers have said, the only people who win in litigation is the lawyers."
City and county leaders have squabbled for years over the operations of MSD. The deal that started the joint operation expires next April. The new agreement would last for 45 years.
Only one person of the two boards voted against adopting the letter's guidelines - Commissioner Chris Monzel. "As I see it, the city protects their pension, protects their unions, keeps claims to asset ownership, gets out of the consent decree. And the city still has a significant say in how the Metropolitan Sewer District is operated for the next 45 years."
Three members of the citizens board would be appointed by the county, and two members by the city.
MSD workers will become county employees, but will stay in the city's retirement fund. Monzel says MSD customers will pay more because of that. The commitment letter was negotiated with the help of the federal judge who also oversaw a plan to save the retirement fund and who worked on the MSD consent decree.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman was undecided until some changes were made over the weekend, clarifying transparency of the board. "It's not exactly what I wanted. But the point is that we're not going to have a board that just meets anywhere. All of us will be able to be in the room and participate. Public information requests will be able to go to this body and they'll have to respond to it."
Smitherman says the letter not only shores up the city's pension fund, but also makes provisions for inclusive hiring.
The deal is still subject to state legislators' approval. They must approve keeping MSD workers in the city's pension plan. It's not clear if they will, or what happens if they don't.