Friday, February 23, 2001

Bill would require hearing before sewer rates go up

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — A bill designed to ensure more accountability when sewer rate increases are proposed was filed by a Northern Kentucky legislator this week.

        Making sanitation districts answerable to the Kentucky Public Service Commission would require a public hearing before a rate increase is approved, said Rep. Arnold Simpson, the Covington Democrat who sponsored the bill.

        Last summer, Sanitation District No. 1, serving Kenton, Boone and Campbell counties, came under fire for refusing to hold a public hearing in Covington on its proposed rate increases. The increase, which called for doubling rates over five years, was approved after critics packed a regularly scheduled meeting in Wilder.

"Checks and balances'
        “By affording the public notification, that may make (sanitation districts') jobs more difficult,” Mr. Simpson said. “But it's also going to provide the necessary checks and balances to ensure that the proposed rate increases are actually needed. If a sanitation district is going to raise your rates, I think the public has a right to know why.”

        However, Richard Kennedy, chairman of the board of directors for Sanitation District No. 1, said putting the sanitation district under the Public Service Commission would require more review. That could increase the cost to the district's 84,000 customers.

        “I'm not opposed to review, but you tell me another entity that hasn't had a rate increase since 1979,” Mr. Kennedy said.

        Covington Mayor Butch Callery, who had pushed to have a hearing on the recent rate increase held in Covington, was one of the chief proponents of the proposed legislation.

        “I just think it's unfair for an appointed body to have so much power,” Mr. Callery said. “There needs to be a mechanism where we can have a fair hearing on these rate increases.”

        Mr. Callery said he hopes Mr. Simpson's bill will provoke discussion and lay the groundwork for its passage by 2002.

"A regional entity'
        Mr. Kennedy said the rate increase is needed to pay for improvements in the sanitation district's 20-year facilities plan, which was discussed at public hearings.

        “People need to realize that this is a regional entity, not their individual entity,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Everything we do is in the best interests of the region.”

        Mr. Kennedy said part of the money the sanitation district is raising through the rate increase is needed to repair aging sewer systems, such as Covington's, that weren't always properly maintained before the sanitation district took them over.

        “Nobody disagrees that they have to do the improvements,” Mr. Callery said. “But my point is we want fair and equitable hearings on it, and we want to have the public involved.”


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