THORNVILLE – Perry County Commissioners are asking Thornville officials to review a sewer service contract for Northern Perry County.
“It’s not a good deal and it’s hurting us,” said Perry County Commissioner Dave Ferricks. “We’re trying to get them to come to the table with us. We’re not trying to hurt Thornville at all.”
Last December, Perry County Commissioner Ed Keister, ME Companies Project Manager Mitch Altier, and then Commissioner Elect Jim O’Brien attended a regular Thornville Village Council meeting to explain to council members that the 2007 contract, which calls for five percent annual rate increases over its 15 year term, is quickly becoming too expensive.
“We need to try to address this,” said Keister, who added that he did not expect any immediate answers from council that night; he was merely asking for council’s consideration. “As it goes on, it’ll be an ungodly amount of money,” he said. Keister said he would like to renegotiate the contract soon. “It’s getting out of hand now in our budget,” he said.
“It’s fast approaching a point where it’s economically unfeasible,” said Altier. “It just needs to be addressed.”
When the contract was signed in 2007, Perry County paid $50,000 that year for Thornville’s sewer service. When the contract ends in 2021, Perry County will be paying Thornville $98,996.58 a year. There is a provision in the contract that it can be reviewed every two years. Ferricks said the commissioners requested a formal review meeting take place, but so far haven’t heard from Thornville.
Thornville Mayor Gavin Renner said he’s aware of the request. “The county is officially asking us to review the sewer contract,” he said. “Their position is that their costs are too high and they want to eliminate a five-percent per year increase. Our position is that these increases cover our costs, which are rising relatively rapidly.”
Renner said commissioners sent Thornville a letter through a retained solicitor (attorney) requesting a meeting. “I’m not certain why they chose to spend extra money to do that since they could have simply requested a review through a normal letter.” He said an implication that the review process was not followed is not true to his knowledge. The previous village administration met with Perry County Commissioners in a meeting held February 2011. “Our village administrator Beth Patrick (then Thornville mayor) personally attended that meeting,” said Renner.
Renner said should a review be held, both parties would need to agree to any changes. He said when commissioners visited the village council in 2012 to discuss the contract, council members were comfortable with the contract as it stands. “Our costs are increasing. To offset we are now asking our direct customers to pay a little more,” he said. “Reducing or freezing the amount the county pays doesn’t make sense as it would take us backward financially and not make our residents very happy.”
Renner said Thornville chose to develop sewer capabilities at its own expense. Those services benefit Northern Perry County in that surrounding areas are taking advantage of those services and meeting EPA regulations. “As we’re bearing those costs, we have to be responsible in how we manage those services,” he said. “The purpose of the five percent increase per year was to make sure that as costs increases and new regulations came into play, (Thornville) would be able to bear those costs. So far, the increase has helped achieve that but we’re not operating with a large surplus.
Renner said in his opinion the amount paid per year under the contract is “a bargain” compared to the more than $5 million it would cost to bring a new plant into operation, even in 2021 when costs will likely be even higher.
“That doesn’t count maintenance and upgrades based on future EPA mandates,” said Renner. “Council and the administration have worked hard to bring the village budgets in the black despite recession and cost increases. I personally don’t see the advantage in a change at this time.” Renner said the Thornville solicitor would provide the commissioners a response to their solicitor’s letter shortly after the two attorneys work out some logistical matters.
“We just raised the water rates with the (Thornville) residents,” said Patrick. “We didn’t take that lightly.” She said it would be very tough for her to agree to anything that would raise rates for Thornville residents even further. Patrick said the sewer plant is halfway through its lifespan and will need service soon. Equipment will require replacement. “They signed a 15-year contract,” she said. The contract has eight years remaining. “It did benefit both of us. We had space available,” said Patrick. “The history of it is, the EPA put (Perry County) under tremendous pressure. Thornville had capacity, and we decided (contracting with Thornville) was the best idea. “It benefited both parties.”