Communities United For Action and our partners at the Sierra Club and League of Women Voters are forming a Fair Sewer Rates Coalition to work for equity and fairness in our sewer rate structure.
Why are sewer rates unfair?
Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati are under a Consent Decree to improve our obsolete Combined Sewers that spew 8 billion gallons per year of untreated sewage and stormwater into our waterways. The Consent Decree sewer fixes, estimated to cost about $4 billion, are largely funded through sewer rates and bonds.
Currently, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) has an archaic rate structure based on water usage instead of the actual burden on our combined sewers. 65% of the wastewater MSD currently treats is stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff is what overwhelms combined sewers, causing overflows into our waterways and basement backups that continue to plague residents all over Hamilton County. So, it doesn't make sense to charge the bulk of the sewer rate based on water usage, which isn't the cause of overflows. We should be funding our sewer improvements equitably, in a way that reflects actual burden on our sewers. We need a rate structure that incentivizes controlling stormwater runoff as we deal with the impacts of climate change and increasingly severe rain events.
Exacerbating the problem with inequitable rates, big users automatically get a 20% discount, costing residential ratepayers an estimated $17 million per year. So, the majority of ratepayers are further subsidizing big users, while we fail to implement assistance programs for the ratepayers in actual need, like low-income homeowners and renters, seniors, persons with disabilities and those experiencing temporary hardships. The subsidy for bulk users comes in the form of a base rate structure (roughly $40/mo) that systematically results in overcharging nearly a quarter of all users.
Organizations, community groups and businesses can sign on below to support the following recommendations.
We are recommending the Hamilton County Commissioners, as the rate-setting authority for the MSD, make the following changes to our sewer rate structure:
- Reduce base rate charges immediately;
- Eliminate the bulk rate discounts for large users that creates a disincentive to water conservation;
- Fund the Consent Decree with impervious surface charges and other stormwater-related fees;
- Implement financial incentives for stormwater abatement for all property owners; and
- Work to expand Customer Assistance programs for those in need.