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Baltimore, Thurston working out water supply dispute

BALTIMORE – A years long dispute over a public water contract between the villages of Baltimore and Thurston may be reaching an amicable end. Basically, the Village of Thurston has until March 3, 2014, to hook onto a new water supplier or work out its differences with its long-term supplier – the Village of Baltimore.

Thurston has objected to Baltimore’s desire to purchase Thurston’s eight-inch diameter water line that connects the villages along Ohio 256. Thurston officials are concerned that Baltimore wants to use the waterline to promote development out to Ohio 37, while Thurston officials are only interested in purchasing water from Baltimore.

Previously, Baltimore and Thurston officials were not able to negotiate a resolution and Baltimore officials said they would not renew Baltimore’s contract with Thurston, which expires March 3, 2014.

So, Thurston was planning to build a 5.3 mile, $1.2 million waterline along the east side of Ohio 37 to Millersport to replace the village’s 1.3 mile waterline along Ohio 256 that has conveyed Baltimore water to Thurston for more than 30 years. However, according to Thurston’s minutes from a special meeting between Baltimore and Thurston Sept. 21, the two villages reached a tentative agreement and plans for the Millersport water line may be on indefinite hold.

“I never want to say it’s a done deal until all terms are reached, the legislation is approved, and agreement is signed,” said Baltimore Village Administrator Marsha Hall, but negotiations were positive.

According to minutes of the special meeting, which Thurston Clerk-Treasurer Aaron Reedy prepared, the Baltimore Village Council and Mayor Robert Kalish, Fiscal Officer Flo Welker, Hall, and Solicitor Jeff Feyko hosted the Thurston Village Council, Mayor Mary Boring, and Reedy. Farm Bureau member Eric Valentine moderated the discussion. He asked all sides to be open to each other’s suggestions. Valentine said both sides were previously asked about ownership and control of water lines, which has been the point of contention. Valentine asked if Thurston would agree to give up a portion of the line for a lower rate.

Thurston Village Council member Lowell Hite said Baltimore previously told Thurston the lines weren’t “up-to-snuff.” Hall said the area in question is in Baltimore’s 208 planning area, which encompasses both sides of Ohio 256 to just east of Ohio 37. Some businesses and residents in the area want to develop and need more water pressure. She said a $10 per-account debt service fee is for plant improvement costs that are not included in the user rate.

Hall said the Ohio EPA is requiring them to put in new wells. The $10 debt service fee is to be used specifically for those improvements. Boring said she understands about the $10 fee, but Thurston has been paying 25 percent more user rate for more than 30 years for water. Hall said that was set back in the 1970s. If planning were done correctly, rates for all the residents probably would have been higher.

Reedy explained that Baltimore has costs factored into its user rate such as line maintenance, payroll, and other services that Baltimore doesn’t provide to Thurston, so Thurston should receive a discounted rate. Valentine said Baltimore talked about the 208 planning area and asked if Boring wished to comment. She said previous discussions were always leaning towards a Joint Economic Development District, but Thurston just wanted to talk water.

Boring read a proposal Baltimore gave Thurston in April of 2011 and Thurston’s response. She said at that time Thurston felt the ball was in Baltimore’s court, but Baltimore didn’t respond. Hall said Baltimore Council members didn’t think Thurston was open to negotiations.

Baltimore Village Council member Judy Landis shared her concern that Thurston couldn’t replace its water line on Ohio 256 now if there was a problem. Hite said Thurston’s been doing it for years, and would continue to do it, if necessary. Comments were made that it seemed like Thurston wasn’t concerned for its residents because the issue had to do with a line that was outside its corporation limit. Thurston council member Garry Boring disagreed.

According to Reedy’s minutes, eventually the two village councils separated for private discussions. Valentine presented a question from the Baltimore Council: “If Baltimore were to take control of the water line in their 208 area, what does Thurston want in return?” The councils came back together and Mayor Boring said if Baltimore were to take over the water line in its 208 area, Thurston would tentatively accept a rate 10 percent below Baltimore village user rates, plus would only pay one $10 debt service fee because the entire Village of Thurston is technically one user.

Hall said that’s probably doable. She said Baltimore was discussing offering a user rate of 80 percent of Baltimore’s resident user rate, but with debt-service fee based on each user. That debt service fee would be based on a percentage of Thurston’s usage of the water generated for both villages. Also, Baltimore would move the master meter at their cost. The contract would allow for a monthly maximum of 2,000,000 gallons.

For example: If Baltimore produces 9,750,000 gallons per month, and Thurston uses 1,260,000 gallons in that month, that represents 12.9 percent of the output. Taking the $10 service fee x 12.9% = $1.30/per month/ customer. Thurston would pay $1.30 per month/per customer. The previous 12 months would be calculated and then charged for a 12-month period.

The percentage would be reviewed once per year. If Baltimore would add another debt service fee, it would only be charged to Thurston if it had a direct connection with Thurston (providing a new line to Thurston, or plant operations).

Tentatively, Thurston agreed to the plan. Other items would have to be worked out, such as the specific terms of agreement.

Valentine wanted to discuss the issue of the Thurston’s $90,000 loan from the Ohio Water Development Authority to design the waterline to Millersport. Hall said Baltimore would tentatively agree to pay half of it, as a cost of buying the water main line. Payment options would be worked out between the villages. Thurston would retain ownership of the plans.

Baltimore agreed to have Feyko draft an agreement.

“In these times, you have to do what’s most economical,” said Millersport Council President Dave Levacy, adding that as far as he’s concerned it makes sense for Thurston to continue its contract with Baltimore. “Millersport’s interest was a line extension,” he said. Other than that, Millersport wouldn’t see much more benefit by providing water to Thurston. However, it was Millersport’s intent to attach its water line to Baltimore’s in case either village needed water from the other in an emergency situation. As long as everyone is in total agreement, Levacy believes a Baltimore, Thurston water contract could be successful.

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