Cincinnati Rejects Hamilton County Plan To Fix MSD

Apr 16, 2019

Not surprisingly, Cincinnati officials are rejecting Hamilton County commissioners' plan announced last week to transfer the Metropolitan Sewer District's executive staff to county control while leaving sewer district employees under the city.  

The commission said last week the plan would end dysfunction at the sewer district. The county and city have been at odds and in court over ownership and operation issues.

County Commission President Denise Driehaus said the proposal would transfer MSD's executive staff, approximately 20 people, under county control while leaving some 600 sewer district employees under the city.

Cincinnati City Manager Patrick Duhaney in a memo Tuesday criticized what he called the "county's proposed unilateral takeover of MSD."

"It was not the product of discussion with the city or the public," Duhaney wrote. "It would result in the county taking control of more than 600 city employees and hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of city property and assets without any compensation to the city and would violate collective bargaining agreements and the city's charter."

Duhaney also said there are several legal and operational problems with the county proposal.

The county's plan is filed under an ongoing court case before federal court Judge Michael Barrett. It will be up to him to decide if the proposal will go forward.

City Solicitor Paul Boggs Muething updated a City Council committee on the litigation.

"Essentially the 1968 agreement expired and the court ordered us to extend it," Boggs Muething said. "We are appealing that decision to the Sixth Circuit, that has been submitted. And the latest county unilateral takeover plan was submitted in a motion to [Barrett's] court. There are several things pending before the court. The court has not ruled. Mediation has ended, and so we await the court's action."

In 2017, the city and county negotiated a settlement where a five-person appointed board would operate the sewer district. That plan required MSD employees to remain in the city's pension system. State law needed to be changed for that to happen, and state lawmakers so far have not acted on such legislation.

Under the 1968 agreement, the county was responsible for setting sewer rates and approving the district's operating and capital budgets. The city was in charge of day-to-day operations.

WVXU's Tana Weingartner contributed to this story.