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City, County Both Want More Time On MSD Deal

Bill Rinehart
County Commissioners sat in on a City Council committee meeting to talk about the future of MSD.

A Cincinnati Council committee did not vote Monday night on a plan that would turn over day to day operations of the Metropolitan Sewer District to a citizen board. Council members want more time.

The arrangement would terminate the existing operating agreement put in place in 1968. Basically, the county owns the sewer district and the city operates it. The arrangement expires in April, 2018.

The proposed replacement arrangement would have a five person board manage the day to day operations of the district. Three members would be appointed by the county and two by the city.

There is a deadline. Hamilton County has to make a financial report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by August 15 so ratings agencies can see the financial stability of the county. That figures into the county's bond rating.

MSD is borrowing a lot of money to pay for sewer system improvements called for by a federal consent decree.

"We're acting a little bit like the highest power or the only power that we're answering here to is the SEC or bond holders or rating agencies," says Council Member PG Sittenfeld. "In reality, the highest entity that we're answering here to is the 900,000 (county residents) people, the 300,000 (city residents) people that put us in these seats.

He's concerned the proposal is being rushed through. It was unveiled July 26.

Vice Mayor David Mann asked if a decision could be put off until August 14. Hamilton County Administrator Jeff Aluotto admitted it would be a tactical challenge, but was feasible. The agreement must be approved by county commissioners and city council members.

Commissioner Chris Monzel asked if a letter from Judge Michael Barrett would calm investors' nerves. He suggested that would allow city and county leaders more time to answer questions about the proposal. Hamilton County's bond counsel, Brad Ruwe, offered it couldn't hurt.

But Commissioner Denise Driehaus says a delay could still jeopardize the county's bond ratings and the ability to borrow money. "If we create instability through this statement, guess who's going to pay? The ratepayers are going to pay. And the agreement provides the most stability to the SEC and the bond market," she said.

Hamilton County Commissioners are working with the city on a second joint public meeting tentatively set for August 7.