NEW LEXINGTON – Thornville officials and Perry County Commissioners definitely have some things to discuss.
Last Friday Thornville Vilalge Administrator Ron Koehler and Mayor Beth Patrick met with commissioners to review several issues, including the county’s sewer contract with the village. Perry County contracts with Thornville to treat wastewater from the county’s new Northern Perry collection system that serves the Perry County portion of the Buckeye Lake shoreline.
Koehler told commissioners that in 2007 they reached an agreement to address inflation in treatment costs by increasing the county’s annual lump sum payment of $50,000 by five percent per year. That contract, which began January 2008, is in effect until the village and county’s combined flows exceed 80 percent of the Thornville sewer plant’s capacity or 15 years, whichever comes first.
In an earlier meeting, Commissioners Fred Shiner and Ed Keister told Koehler and Patrick that they would like to renegotiate the contract because the five percent will become expensive as the years pass. “We’re going to try to review that,” said Shriner. He said that although he signed the contract, he wasn’t as directly involved as he would’ve liked to be in much of the original negotiations and, simply put, he believes the five percent annual increase is too steep.
“It’ll cost us a pile of money,” said Commissioner Lonnie Wood. “I didn’t know it was there.” He said former Commissioner Thad Cooperrider was heavily involved in the original negotiations and it was early in Woods’ career as a commissioner. Wood agrees the five percent hike is steep, but on the other hand, “it’s in black and white,” and the county is obligated to meet the contract’s terms. “We’re holding up our end of the bargain,” he said. Wood said he understands that Thornville is trying to cover its expenses like any other village, but he also hopes Thornville officials realize the county’s trying to do the same thing. He plans for the commissioners to sit down “one on one” with Thornville officials to negotiate, although a date hasn’t been set.
Thornville officials may take some convincing.
“The (sewer) contract will stand as signed, as it was agreed upon,” said Patrick. She said both the village and the county had legal representation present when the contract was signed and everyone understood its terms.
“It was actually the county who wrote the contract,” said Koehler. He wondered if commissioners have considered how much it would cost the county to operate its own plant to service the areas Thornville covers.
Some other points may be easier to negotiate. Koehler told the commissioners Feb. 4 that M•E Companies, a Westerville based engineering firm, oversaw the installation of a sewer line from the Thornport lift station to the Thornville sewer plant, as well as the Hagan lift station.
Koehler said Ohio EPA required installation of an emergency generator in the lift station in case of a power outage. The generator needs to be powerful enough to operate two pumps and the village and county would each pay half of its cost. Koehler said M•E Companies Project Manager Mitch Altier provided Buckeye Power Sales with the generator specifications and Buckeye was to size the generator based on those specifications. In the meantime, a subcontractor called Altier and increased the size of the generator but that new information wasn’t passed on to Buckeye Power. Consequently, a smaller generator was installed which Koehler doesn’t believe will power the two pumps at the same time. He’d like the village and county to share in the cost of installing a larger generator. Koehler said the existing generator could be traded in for the new one, although it wouldn’t be an even trade. “We got a generator that was undersized,” he said.
“(Altier), on his own, did something for you guys,” said Wood. “You ordered the generator.” He said the county installed a manhole and covered half the generator, neither of which the county will ever use. “I don’t feel that we’re responsible for the generator,” Wood said.
“ It won’t handle the two pumps,” said Koehler.
Altier said the existing generator will run the station and it would be “highly unlikely” that both pumps would be needed at once. Koehler said the Thornville sewer plant manager disagreed.
Tuesday, Wood said Altier was asked to find a price for the generator – roughly $18,000 – and Koehler ordered it. “Now it’s our fault,” said Wood wryly. “I really don’t see where that’s our responsibility.” He said the county put in the lift station so Thornville could treat the county’s sewage. “We helped them out a lot,” said Wood.
In another issue, Koehler told commissioners that screenings (solid matter in sewage) from the Thornport lift station are causing problems for the Thornville sewer plant. He said that during contract talks, commissioners and village officials discussed a more costly method of removing screenings than using a grinder, but ultimately a grinder was installed.
“Both the operators and M•E Companies agreed that the grinder would take care of the problem,” said Koehler. “It did not.” He said that the village should be able to sell pressed sludge – a byproduct of the sewage treatment process – to farmers to use as fertilizer in soil. However, after 2014 new EPA regulations won’t allow field application of sludge that contains screenings. Koehler said he doesn’t believe the screenings should be coming to the Thornville sewer plant and he’d like to see them removed at the lift station.
Wood said the lift station was “gift” to Thornville. “What we’re getting paid by the customers isn’t paying the bills,” he said. Removing the screenings at the lift station is yet another county expense.
The commissioners and Thornville administration were clear that everyone is willing to discuss the aforementioned issues.
“We’ve got to work together,” said Shriner.
“I think we can sit down and work it out for the best interests of both communities,” said Patrick.