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MSD budget error highlights ongoing feud between county and city leaders

Sarah Ramsey

Hamilton County commissioners will have to make changes to the budget for the Metropolitan Sewer District this year.

Hamilton County owns the utility, and commissioners approve the budget every year. But Cincinnati operates MSD and negotiates with the labor union. Last year the city approved a 5% cost of living raise, higher than the 2% raise accounted for in the budget.

“Which is nice that people can say, increase more, and we're the one ones that will have to pay it,” said Commission President Stephanie Summerow Dumas. “I guess my point is, if you're not paying the bill, you can increase it as much as you want. And that's what happened.”

Cincinnati City Council approved the new labor agreement Nov. 10, 2021. MSD officials released their proposed budget Nov. 19. Commissioners passed the final budget Dec. 16.

A Cincinnati official told WVXU that labor contract negotiations always involve the relevant department head. In this case, that would be MSD officials.

Sewer District Director Diana Christy says the budget prepared by her staff had a few administrative errors because they were short-staffed at the time.

“It really is not much more than an oversight,” Christy said. “We're not concerned, though, that we would need more funding because we do have some excess funds budgeted in our wastewater engineering division.”

Christy says she’ll likely come back to the Board of Commissioners later this year with a request to make that transfer. Budget adjustments like this are fairly common and it’s unlikely to have any negative impact.

“It just points out from my vantage point, the disconnect between having a utility that is owned by the county, run by the city, and some of these personnel issues are being handled by the city,” said Commissioner Denise Driehaus. “But there seems to be a disconnect between that and the folks that approve the budget, which is us.”

MSD is operating under a federal consent decree finalized in 2006, which requires repairs and upgrades aimed at reducing combined sewer overflows in the region. County and city leaders have been feuding over MSD operations for years.

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.