Cincinnati, Ohio – On Monday evening, Communities United For Action (CUFA) hosted all three Hamilton County Commissioners for a packed meeting on the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). CUFA leaders wanted commitments from the Commissioners on several issues with MSD, and they got some answers.

CUFA member Wanda Ball asked when ratepayers can expect the Customer Assistance Program (CAP) recommended by the Rate Affordability Task Force in May of 2016, but the Commissioners said they couldn’t commit to an effective date for the program.

Ball asked the Commissioners to freeze sewer rates and commit to a moratorium on water shutoffs until the CAP is up and running. All three Commissioners committed to the rate freeze, but waffled on the moratorium, Portune stating that they aren’t sure of the cost.

Ball replied, “I understand, but there are people who can’t afford it now. We need you to freeze rates and water shutoffs until there is an Assistance Program.” Portune said the Commissioners would have an answer for the moratorium by the end of November.

Many in attendance pushed for an answer on when Project Groundwork to fix the sewer overflows and backups would be completed. Several asked the Commissioners if they could get help with their individual cases, including a problematic combined sewer overflow that spews raw sewage into yards on Springlawn Ave. in Northside.

CUFA member Jess Enzor pushed for a date, asking, “when will the sewers be fixed?” Commissioners deferred the question to MSD Director Gerald Checco, who said that Phase Two of Project Groundwork would have to be split into two decade-long parts. Commissioners committed to holding at least three public hearings in early 2018, during the planning process for Phase Two.

On sewage backups, CUFA requested an audit of the program to be released to the public by February 15, 2018. Checco said an audit is currently underway and MSD will release results by that date. Portune said Commissioners recently set aside 28 million more for the program in response to the historic storms in the area this past year.

CUFA wants to know if the program is working as required by law under the Consent Decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and several in attendance claimed to not be getting help from the program.

CUFA member Deb Sims asserted that someone must be held accountable for previous mismanagement of public money at MSD. Commissioner Driehaus replied that, while the state audit isn’t expected to be completed until February of 2018, “for those that mismanaged money, they will be held accountable.” Sims pushed for Commissioners to work to pay back ratepayer money. Portune added, “if it turns out to be an individual responsible, we will go after them to recover money.”