Saturday, April 27, 2002

Butler Co. water rate fight ends

By Steve Kemme,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — A long, acrimonious fight between Butler County and Hamilton over water rates ended Friday in handshakes and high-fives.

        In a rare joint meeting of Hamilton City Council and county commissioners at council chambers, both sides approved an agreement on water rates that ends an expensive four-year legal dispute.

        The agreement will lower water rates in about three months for county water customers — who have been paying one of the highest rates in Ohio — and will hold city customers' rates steady until 2006.

        Butler County officials will have to conduct a rate study before they know how much customers' rates will drop. Butler's average residential water customer pays about $30 a month, while Hamilton's average is about $15 a month.

        “For many years, we have been trying to get to this day,” Commissioner Courtney Combs said.

        All three commissioners voted for the agreement, and city council approved it, 6-1. Councilwoman Kathy Becker said she voted against it because it will cause city water rates to jump 15 percent from 2006 through 2008.

        Butler and Hamilton officials have been battling over the 1989 contract that requires the county to buy water from the city to serve West Chester, Liberty and Fairfield townships and part of Lemon Township.

        The county contended that Hamilton was overcharging for water, while the city said its prices were fair. Each side has spent more than $1 million in legal fees fighting this issue.

        Last year, Hamilton filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court concerning part of an August decision by the 12th District Court of Appeals that favored Butler County.

        The Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear the case and sent it to Butler County Common Pleas Court for a trial later this year.

        But Friday's long-awaited settlement eliminates the need for a trial.


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