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County to sewer district on budget: That's fantasy land

Tana Weingartner

After the first of two public hearings on the Metropolitan Sewer District's 2015 budget, one thing is clear: there's still a lot of animosity between the utility and Hamilton County Commissioners.

MSD employees complain the county's monitor and budgetary cuts are hampering their work. Enterprise manager Leisha Pica told the board, "We are in immediate need of a more collaborative working relationship with the county oversight team. The biggest impact to our capital program has been delays with implementing projects. I am very concerned with seven phase one consent decree projects that may not meet their mandated completion dates."

The consent decree is the federal mandate to make billions of dollars worth of  upgrades to the county's sewer system. It's also about the only thing the two sides agree upon.

MSD Director Tony Parrott says "the magnitude of the consent decree has become and albatross."

Commissioners had a similar lament Monday. The county is looking into a clause in the consent decree that might allow for the board to go back to court and ask for money saving changes.

Wednesday, the board was not impressed with MSD's tone on the budget. MSD had requested a $234 million budget, but the monitor and county administrators are recommending $216.5 million. The sewer district says multiple changes, budget cuts, and a lack of feedback from the oversight monitor are slowing projects down and increasing costs.

"Welcome to our world," Commission President Chris Monzel said, referring to the county's own budget. "Over the past several years we had to lay off 1,700 employees, closed the jail, we haven't had raises for six to seven years until last year, we are deferring maintenance on our own buildings - over $120 million. We are not a blank check so we are going to put you through what we go through here every year."

Fellow commissioners Greg Hartmann and Todd Portune were even less happy.

"To MSD," said Hartmann, "if you believe we're not going to exert our budgetary authority over something this important, you're dead wrong. ...Expecting for us to be a rubber stamp for the dollar numbers, Tony (Parrott), that you propose, that's fantasy land."

The second public hearing is Monday, Dec 8 at 6:30 p.m. in room 603 of the County Administration Building located at 138 E. Court Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.