The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 28, 2012

Claypool seeks to scrub hydrant fee

Star Beacon

—  Commissioner Dan Claypool is asking the board and department of environmental services to look at ways to eliminate the county water system’s private fire-hydrant charge.

The charge, which primarily affects commercial and industrial properties, is $49.08 a month (2013 rate). Additionally, if the business has a sprinkler system, it is charged a fire protection fee based upon the size of the connection and floor space of the structure. For one with 10,000 to 20,000 square feet, that charge is $81.72 a month.

The fees do not include the cost of water that flows through the devices.

“This fire hydrant fee just seem to be exorbitant,” Claypool said.

Larry Meaney, director of the department, told the board that the county’s private hydrant charge is less than that of either the City of Geneva or Aqua Ohio’s Mentor service area. Further, commissioners voted a while back to gradually reduce the charge by 10 percent annually.

He said the charge is akin to an insurance policy — the revenue is used to pay for and maintain a robust system that can deliver the large volume of water required when sprinklers are activated or a fire department taps into a hydrant.

“We have to be able to rise to that demand if needed,” Meaney told the board. “That means more pumps, larger (diameter) lines.”

Fire marshals, building departments and insurers are more interested in providing a robust water system than the Environmental Protection Agency, whose focus is water quality. Adequate fire-fighting capacity also is an economic development issue, especially for tourism-related businesses such as motels. Meaney said the development of Spire Institute and hospitality industries in the Route 534/Interstate 90 is concerning to him. He said the day is fast approaching when the county will need elevated storage to meet the demands of that area. That will require a local match, money that could come from the hydrant, sprinkler and connection fees.

Nevertheless, Claypool feels it is unfair to charge business owners a hydrant fee if they also are paying a fee for automatic sprinklers.

“I have had a hard time with this charge, these types of fees for something they already paid for,” Claypool said.

Shawn Aiken, water projects manager for CT Consultants, said the fees help the water system operator recover the cost of the robust infrastructure that otherwise would not be necessary. The residential customer benefits by having a more reliable system with greater water pressures than required by the EPA. The fee also helps the operator hold the line on rate increases.

Claypool asked Meaney and his staff to calculate how much the county would have to raise water rates in order to eliminate the hydrant charge. The idea would be to spread the cost of the system across all users, not just commercial ones.

Meaney called the idea “a reasonable approach he could support and justify.”

There are an estimated 1,000 private hydrants on the county’s water system.