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MSD has a more detailed plan to adjust rates, but it's still a long way off

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Courtesy of Jason Whitman
The plan, if adopted, would mean higher bills for properties with large parking lots.

A plan to make stormwater sewer rates more equitable is moving forward, but still far from being implemented.

The Metropolitan Sewer District is considering a new impervious surface fee based on how much of a property's area is water-resistant, like asphalt and concrete. During heavy rain events, water overflows from these areas into the sewer system, which then has to be treated.

The change would mean higher bills for properties with large parking lots, and lower bills for most residents.

Prabha Kumar is managing director of Black and Veatch, the consulting company conducting MSD's rate study.

"Residential customers and high-rise customers that use a lot of water, even small business like restaurants and others, historically they have been paying more than their fair share," Kumar said. "And there are properties with very, very large impervious area that have not been paying their fair share. It's not their fault, it is a system of the rate structure."

Initial estimates show bills would still vary depending on meter size and water usage, with the additional metric of impervious area. For example:

  • A single-family home using 5 units of water a month (average) could save about $15 a month (paying $36 instead of $51)
  • A single-family home use 2 units of water a month (less than average) could save about $8 a month (paying $31 instead of $39)
  • A fast food restaurant could save around $125 a month (paying $612 instead of $736)
  • A sit-down dining restaurant could save about $350 a month (paying $797 instead of $1,148)
  • A church could pay about $47 more per month (paying $149 instead of $98)
  • A parking lot that is not currently an MSD customer could be charged about $315 a month for impervious surface

A county task force recommended the change nearly six years ago, and groups like Communities United For Action have been advocating for it as well. CUFA member Wanda Ball says it's too soon to know if the proposed plan is truly equitable.

"I appreciate the commissioners not willing to make a rash decision, and they want to get more information and they want to listen to the community. I think that's great," Ball said. "But listening to the community and acting on what the community says, and their needs, is sometimes different."

Ball says they wouldn't be in favor of a plan that reduces residential rates in one area only to increase them in another.

"We don't have enough information to give a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down," she said.

MSD officials say community advocates will be part of the next planning phase, along with groups likely to see larger bills like some churches, schools, big box stores and car dealerships.

Kumar says customers would be able to reduce their impervious surface fee by making changes to the property.

"If they can take a little bit of their parking area and convert it to more of a green solution, then they can get credits," she said, reducing not just the water bill but also the impact on the stormwater system.

Some properties would become MSD customers for the first time under the new structure. For example: undeveloped land, playgrounds, cemeteries and standalone parking lots and structures. If the property doesn't have restrooms, the owner isn't currently paying for MSD service — but the owner would be charged an impervious surface fee under the proposed system.

Commissioners told MSD this week to continue working on the feasibility study, and asked for more public input over the next few months. If commissioners approve changes to the rate structure, it could take up to two years to implement.

Learn more about the MSD feasibility study below:

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.