• 64°

Union-Rome sewer system talk of commissioners meeting

Sale is one potential outcome as costs rise for county

At the Lawrence County Commissioners’ meeting on Thursday afternoon, JB Finley, a resident of Rome Township, asked about the potential sale of the Union-Rome sewer system and adding that many of the residents didn’t know what was going on with it.

“I am hoping that the commissioners would hold some type of informational meeting,” he said. “I think there is a lack of information out there.”

“This is going to have a substantial impact” on residents, he said and added that there were rumors that the rates could double in a couple years after it was sold.

Commissioner DeAnna Holliday said while they wanted to be transparent and strong communicators, they didn’t want to comment prematurely.

She explained that the commissioners had received a letter of interest which prompted the water system going out for bid proposal.

“We don’t have those (bids) in yet. To be able to communicate to the public would be premature, because we ourselves do not have the information I know you are going to be seeking,” she said, adding that once they have the information it will be shared. “I don’t think it is a secret to you or the majority of the county that we have a state-of-the-art facility with the Union-Rome sewer. And with that type of facility, it is very expensive to operate. As you well know, the rates have not moved for a long time. The last time they moved, they went down and you can well imagine that costs have gone up.”

She said the commissioners are charged with protecting the financial situation of the sewer system and to make sure residents had a good sewer system and determine whether the best way forward was with the county or a different entity is what they wanted to explore.

Holliday said the commissioners were probably sounding like a broken record by saying they didn’t have information at this time to share.

As for the rumors about what is going to happen, Holliday said “we couldn’t tell you if that was true or untrue at this point because there is nothing carved in stone.”

Commissioner Dr. Colton Copley said that, for the commissioners, helping the sewer system, the residents and the employees of the sewer system is their priority.

“We do want to keep people informed but putting out anything that is a guess is just not the right way to handle it,” he said. “We want to make sure sewer service is not disrupted, you get good service for what you’re paying for, but we also want to make it as affordable as can be.”

He promised they will give out information when it is available.

Holliday said that while they are accepting bids, they are exploring other options as well.

“We are not just set on a sale, we want to know what that would look like, but we are also soliciting other information with other opportunities that could be coming available in the very near future. So, I think the message here is that we want to do the right thing.”

Commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. said that he lives in the area served by the Union-Rome sewer system, so he has the same interests as other people in that area.

He said one issue is that the sewer plant was “overbuilt.”

“We aren’t using half that facility,” he said. “And we haven’t been able to use one part and that is costing us money.”

He said it was he and then-commissioner Bill Pratt that lowered the rates to try and help.

“Now, we’re in a position where we owe a lot of money and we have some lines that are going bad and some big lines we are going to have to replace,” Hayes said. “We are just trying to find ways to be more efficient. And I don’t know if the government should be in the sewer business anyway. It’s tough, combining those two. But we are not going to do anything to jeopardize it.”

He said it isn’t that they haven’t wanted to put out anything, they haven’t had anything to put out.

Holliday said they had to replace a membrane in the sewer system last year and it cost $1.2 million.

“So that gives you some perspective on the cost of operating that plant,” she said.

Finley said he is a data guy and likes to see the numbers and had researched it back several years and what the various commissioners have done on the sewer system.

“I’m not saying it is right or wrong, I’m just looking for the transparency,” he said, adding he hoped there would be a public meeting on it at a later time.

Items on the agenda included:

• Approved the hiring of Jamie Sue Murphy as the director of Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services, effective Aug. 23.

• Approved the hiring of Missy Evans as the director of Children Services Agency, effective Aug. 23.

• Abolished the position of assistant director at Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services effective Aug. 23.

• Proclaimed August as Child Support Awareness Month.

• Approved and signed a memorandum of understanding to be entered into by Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services’ Children Services Agency and the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. It will allow for both parties to work together and collaborate with one another to plan and implement the Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment, and Reducing Trauma) program. The Ohio Start program is an intervention program that will provide specialized victim services to children who have suffered victimization due to parental drug use.

• Approved the donation of $1,000 for the Lawrence County ESC Civic Scholars Program.

• Accepted the resignation from Justin Chapman and Logan Laughman from Lawrence County EMS and approved the status change for Stephen Alley from full-time advance EMT to part-time advance EMT effective Aug. 31, as requested by Mac Yates, Lawrence County EMS director of operations.

• Approved the advertising of the public viewing and public hearing for the vacation of Elm Alley in Symmes Township.

• Approved and signed the emergency resolution to accept the material terms of the July 21, 2021 National Opioid Settlement Agreement.

The commissioners meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays at the courthouse. It is also broadcast on Facebook Live.