By Scott Halasz
XENIA — The water contract between Xenia and Greene County will officially end in June 2018.
That became a 100 percent certainty Thursday as Xenia City Council voted 7-0 to reject the latest and final offer from the county to extend the current agreement for five years. The city has been selling the county water for the Shawnee Hills, Cedarville and Wilberforce areas since 1998, when the two signed a 20-year agreement. The contract gives the city the option to include up to a 50 percent surcharge for supplying the water, which county officials have questioned, saying it cases a financial strain.
In late August, county commissioners informed city leaders that they will not renew the contract when it expires in 2018 and will instead construct their own system and tap into the North Beavercreek system. That set off a series of negotiation attempts, with the final proposal coming in the form of a 5-year extension submitted by the county last week. It includes a 3 percent cap on rate increases and no surcharge.
That did no go over well at Thursday’s regular council meeting.
“To recommend this would be to recommend you tie your hands,” City Manager Brent Merriman said, citing the potential need for rate increases above 4 percent. “This would be irresponsible on my part.”
According to the staff report from the city to council, “the county has twice verbally presented an offer that the city council has in turn articulated its willingness to accept; on both occasions the county then reneged and changed its demands. In the most recent case two weeks ago, staff thought we had actually come to a tentative agreement that the city could live with, resulting in the city manager recommending approval of an amendment to city council. When the county presented its final proposal in writing, the terms had been altered again, now including the provision that city council would be limited in its authority to adjust water rates.”
Before voting to reject the offer, several council members had harsh words for the county and the negotiation process.
“The goal post has been moved far too many times,” President Mike Engle said.
Added councilmenber Dr. Edgar Wallace, “I consider it unfathomable that the customer dictate to the provider what they can and can’t do.”
Councilmember Jeanne Mills said if she could “back out of the contract tonight and ‘say find your own water,’ ” she would.
County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said that the city is losing out on revenue by not extending the contract. He said during the next 18 months, the city will realize $1 million revenue but will be missing out on a projected $2.5 million over the next five years had it accepted the contract.
“It’s unfortunate that the city didn’t take advantage of this offer,” Huddleson said.
The county water system would cost around $5.5 million, Huddleson said. It would be financed over 20 years and plans are moving forward.
“We have continued to make preparations to install our water line extension well before the June 4, 2018 deadline,” he said.
In a related water move Thursday, the city did agree to reduce the surcharge Central State University is paying from 50 to 20 percent effective Jan. 1, 2017.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.