The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 3, 2013

Ashtabula County extends tap-in fee relief for new water customers

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — While lawmakers wrestled with tax breaks last week, commissioners calmly and unanimously passed a resolution to extend a moratorium on the capital improvement facilities fee for new water customers.

The fee is normally charged new customers when they tap into the county-owned water system, which operates in Geneva-on-the-Lake Village and Geneva, Saybrook, Ashtabula, Plymouth, Harpersfield, Austinburg and Jefferson townships. During the depth of the recession, commissioners decided to place a moratorium on the fee as a way to attract customers and, ultimately, keep people working in the building trades.

The minimum fee is $450. Larry Meaney, director of the county’s department of environmental services, said the fee is based upon the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s flow guidelines. For the average single-family residence, that is 500 gallons per day.

While that may not sound like much money in light of all the other expenses that go into a new home’s construction, Jim Carlson of A.B. Carson Construction, says it is “huge.” He said the cost of building materials has escalated in the past year, and the moratorium has helped absorb some of that increase.

“It does help. I built nine units last year and it’s a big help,” Carlson said. ‘Nine units times $450 is enough of a savings to pay for half of a foundation. It makes a big difference to anybody who is building.”

Meaney said the department issued 19 permits for residential connections last year and thereby waived a minimum of $8,550 in potential income.

“It was a very slow year as far as permitting goes,” Meaney said. In a typical good year, the department would have made between 50 and 60 residential connections. “(The moratorium) really didn’t impact us too badly one way or another. The economy has changed a lot of things around here,” Meaney said.

The impact is greatest on commercial developments. The fee for an 80-room hotel would be $8,000, for example.

The county forgave $7,694 in commercial fees last year. The largest single project was a dormitory at Glenbeigh Health in Rock Creek. The moratorium saved the project $4,000.

Overall, the water department forgave $16,194 in fees last year. Meaney said the loss is minuscule against the department’s 2013 revenue forecast of nearly $4 million.

Board of Commissioners President Peggy Carlo said suspending the fee is an example of how commissioners can support economic development. She said the board is looking at other ways the board can ease the burden on area businesses who use the county’s water system.

“I think it is important that the board of commissioners shows support for any kind of economic development,” she said. Carlo said the board is looking at other ways to give commercial users of the system some relief without having to raise rates.

Carlson said that, late last year, he asked both Carlo and Commissioner Daniel Claypool to extend the moratorium because it has been very beneficial to the area’s builders. He applauded the board’s decision to extend the relief.

“It’s one thing that keeps me building,” Carlson said.