WARREN — A private water company is asking Trumbull County Commissioners to consider selling it the Southeast Public Water System, which supplies water to all or parts of Brookfield, Vienna and Hubbard Township, for $8 million, according to a proposal sent to the county sanitary engineer. .
Aqua Ohio Inc. President Robert Davis, in a March 14 letter to the county, said the company was ready to assume ownership, with a commitment to infrastructure investment and the ability to negotiate water tariffs.
Trustees in these communities want to partner with Aqua to provide their constituents with high quality water services from a uniform water supplier and to expand water service in their townships in support of the economic development, according to the letter.
“We were approached by the administrators of the South East Water District about a year ago to see if we would be interested in the water supply,” Davis said Friday. “What has been sent to the commissioners is a high-level, non-binding letter of interest to determine the county’s interest in selling the system.”
The $8 million price tag in the letter would likely be a starting point for negotiations, he said. An actual proposal with a price would be given once it is determined if the county plans to sell the infrastructure. At that time, they would negotiate any infrastructure upgrades that might be needed, water rates, and other costs.
Aqua Ohio now provides service and water to Struthers, Campbell, Lowellville and Canfield in Mahoning County. He has a qualifying application pending in Jackson and Milton townships, also in Mahoning County.
Aqua is present in seven states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, Indiana, Virginia and Ohio. With over 500,000 customers, Aqua Ohio has the second largest number of customers in the company’s system.
Vienna Administrator Phil Pegg said the interest in getting water from Aqua is because he believes the water supplied by the Mahoning Valley Health District in Niles has been – in his own words – awful.
“In my case, I had to replace at least three water tanks in the last three years”, he said. “It’s very, very bad water.”
Pegg said township residents and administrators met with Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda and Sanitary Engineer Gary Newbrough about their concerns.
“The water had a calcium level at around 11”, he said. “It’s like drinking chalk.”
Pegg said township residents had to pay for the water pipe that brings water from the MVSD to Vienna when he, through Niles, became the water supplier in Vienna. Before Niles supplied the water, the Southeast Water District was supplied with water by Aqua Shenango.
“They installed a new descaler, and the water got better, but not enough,” he said.
Pegg said Vienna had three concerns: poor water quality, lack of investment in the Southeast district, and worries about annexation attempts by Niles and his business supporters.
Pegg said it was the perfect time to discuss the service the Southeast District received as the original 20-year contract signed with Niles/MVSD is about to end.
Hubbard Township Board Chairman Rick Hernandez also expressed interest in the county working with Aqua Ohio so township residents can have a source of safe drinking water.
“Personally, I would be for” Hernandez said. “However, we as a board have not taken a position on this.”
Hernandez said some discussions have taken place with Brookfield directors over the past six months, but those discussions have not resumed.
“Some residents of the township have encountered problems with their water wells”, Hernandez said.
Brookfield Administrator Dan Suttles also pointed out that its board had not established a position on whether it would recommend to the commissioners that it sell its water and sewer lines to Aqua Ohio.
“We worked with Vienna and the canton of Hubbard”, Suttles said. “I would like to point out that, personally, I am quite satisfied with the services currently provided by the Trumbull County Health System.”
Some areas of Brookfield are currently served by Aqua Ohio, while other areas are served by Trumbull County, he noted.
Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said the change would affect about 3,000 customers in Trumbull County in the Southeast Waters District.
“The District has paid for over $50 million in upgrades since its inception and those customers deserve the best quality and service available,” he said. “Any takeover bid from the district should reflect these improvements as well as other financial burdens the county would incur.”
Prior to 2006, Aqua Shenango was the bulk water supplier to these townships, according to Cantalamessa. The company has raised its prices several times. He noted that Aqua is a publicly traded company with a vested interest in maximizing its profits.
“We have made great strides in this district in terms of overall water quality and have significantly reduced water losses,” said Cantalamessa. “Everyone has to look carefully at the numbers before and decide if this is the best option, not just in the short term, but over a longer period.”
Commissioner Niki Frenchko said the proposal seemed unreasonably low.
She said she was not aware of any constituents contacting the commissioners’ office saying they wanted Aqua, and the commissioners did not receive any approved resolutions from the townships.
“I think the voters (in the township) should be made aware that their administrators are considering such a significant change,” she says.
Believing that privatization makes sense in some cases, Frenchko does not in this case.
“There is no competition with Aqua to reduce costs for customers”, she says. “Once they have you, users are at their mercy. We are in the process of conducting a rate study to equalize rates across the county, and it would hurt rates for all customers in Trumbull County to sell a performing neighborhood.
Fuda said he needed to talk to Newbrough about the cost of Aqua Ohio water. “His water costs are higher than what we charge,” said Fouda.
Cantalamessa said a Southeast District customer’s monthly water bill is currently $43.10 per 5,000 gallons.
The same usage in the Masury District of Aqua is $54.05 per 5,000 gallons, according to Cantalamessa.
In Mahoning County, Aqua costs $64.29 for 5,000 gallons, he noted.
Fuda estimates the county’s infrastructure is worth around $40 million, not what was offered.
“We (the commissioners) did not discuss it”, said Fouda. “It’s something sent to us.”