CUFA will submit the following to Hamilton County Commissioners on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at their hearing on the Metropolitan Sewer District's proposed 2020 budget. Sign on below to support.
December 17, 2019
Board of Hamilton County Commissioners
138 E. Court St., Room 603
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Re: MSD 2020 Budget Proposal
Dear President Driehaus, Vice President Summerow Dumas, and Commissioner Portune:
In reviewing the proposed 2020 Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) Operating and Capital Budgets, the urgent need for a more people-focused budget and transparent financial reporting from the MSD has never been greater. The City and County must comply with the Consent Decree. We are requesting the County to amend the MSD budget to ensure MSD is spending our money responsibly, focusing on helping people deal with sewer backups and overflows and making sewer bills affordable.
Sewer Backup Programs
- Add a budget line item for an independent audit of how the Sewer Backup Response (SBU) and Prevention Programs (SBPP) comply with Consent Decree requirements. The audit should be overseen by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and in collaboration with CUFA. MSD is projecting to spend a mere 9% of the budget of the SBU and SBPP to pay damage claims. According to MSD’s own reporting, only 10% of people who file complaints with MSD receive help with cleanup, and only 6% receive damage claim settlements. This is unacceptable.
- Double the Sewer Backup programs budget to $20 million to ensure there is enough money to help more people.
- Budget for a contingency to purchase the homes of Muddy Creek residents in 2020 in the case that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money is not issued.
The Consent Decree requires that when no remedy can be made to prevent sewer backups that MSD offers to buy those properties. We see that MSD has budgeted for the Muddy Creek buyout in 2020 with the help of FEMA money. The homes should be bought by July 2020 regardless of whether FEMA money is issued or not. Residents have been waiting more than three years for relief from repeated backups.
While the Customer Assistance Program (CAP) for seniors has been implemented, it currently serves only 5% of the estimated senior citizens eligible for the program. CUFA recommends MSD anticipate an additional $1 million decrease in revenue to immediately expand the program to senior renters. This expansion does not require a change in any law.
MSD must improve its outreach to enroll people in the CAP. We recommend a detailed plan outlining the cost of outreach and advertisement for the program. The plan should include advertisement in every water and sewer bill.
Consent Decree Obligations
The Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Budget request must reflect a commitment to meeting our Consent Decree obligations.
The Consent Decree requires that the areas hit hardest by sewer backups and overflows be fixed first. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, when Combined Sewers overflow into people’s yards, they should get fixed immediately. CUFA supports funding projects in the most impacted areas first. As examples:
- In 2018 the BOCC added the Ludlow Run project to the proposed Phase 2 plan and subsequently to the 2019 budget. Yet, nothing has happened in the meantime to begin planning on this project and it has been removed entirely from the 2020 budget proposal. We recommend funds for Ludlow Run be reinstated.
- Residents in Bond Hill, Roselawn, Golf Manor, Lincoln Heights, Covedale, Green Township and Norwood are dealing with repeated sewer backups, fearing the rain. They cannot wait another decade for fixed sewers. Their homes are being damaged and their health is being jeopardized now. We need the 2020 budget to reflect a Phase 2 plan that includes heavily impacted areas now.
Rate Increase Proposal
There is no justification for a rate increase at this time. CUFA strongly recommends that there are no new rate increases until the following criteria are met:
- Implementation of a comprehensive CAP program including all seniors, all low-income residents, people living with disabilities, people experiencing temporary hardship and landlords that house low-income tenants;
- Fair, restructured sewer rates that eliminate the bulk-rate discount and accurately reflect the burden impervious surfaces have on our sewer system;
- An approved Phase 2 plan, agreed upon by the City and County, which prioritizes the neighborhoods most impacted by sewer backups and overflows as required by the Consent Decree; and
- Transparent and timely financial reporting from MSD on the progress of Project Groundwork, including Phase 1 and Bridge Projects.
In summary, the BOCC should not approve any rate increase requests from MSD until it prioritizes helping people most impacted by sewer backups and overflows and affordability issues. We know that decades-long neglect of our sewers is exactly what got us into this position. We can fix our sewers now in a way that everyone can afford. But to do so, we must work together to ensure that we are good stewards of ratepayer money by prioritizing the needs of ratepayers.