Is there about to be a water war in Dayton?

Our water source is a huge aquifer underneath Dayton. We have so much good, potable water that we even pump millions of gallons of it in the air every hour at Riverscape. But, a source told me today that Montgomery County and the City of Dayton have reopened the water contract and things could get interesting, soon.

The contract that’s in place wasn’t due to be renegotiated until 2016. The county has been threatening to build its own well field at Crane’s Run for years. The last deal put that proposed plant to sleep, however, in an attempt to “save” money, the county may be threatening to build it again so as to renegotiate rates. This is coming when Dayton is looking at a huge surplus of capacity supply with closing of Delphi plants and a cutback at Cargill – two of the largest industrial users.

The Dayton Water Department is also getting merged into public works, and the water department budget thrown in under the General fund. While this all sounds like accounting moves, it’s important because up until now, the water department had its own Profit and Loss responsibilities, and has always run in the black.

Water shouldn’t be a bargaining chip, it is a community asset. However, if we are ever to see a move to UniGov, it’s the one bargaining chip that Dayton can’t afford to lose before we belly up to the regional government discussions.

If anyone has further information on this, feel free to share.

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Bruce KettelleJeff Recent comment authors
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This move means we have moved a step away from regionalism.

Running the water department as an enterprise fund would make it easier to merge the city and county systems into a true regional system, with rates set at what it costs to pump, treat, and distribute water.

By eliminating the enterpise fund  the city can use surplus from water sales to subsidize the general fund, increasing the temptation to jack-up rates independent of any techincal reason to do so.

I think this is a signal for the county to finally cut the city off and build that new wellfield.

Bruce Kettelle

As long as Dayton can hold their sword of water over region they will essentially be able to name their price.  Englewood is looking pretty smart these days with their own water source.  Others including Trotwood have studied the cost to drill and treat their own tap water but the upfront costs will take years to recover.

Where I do disagree  with Jeff is how tight an enterprise fund should be controlled.  One could make a case that water users have an impact beyond the direct cost of the water that are impossible to tax in other ways.  Local roads for instance do not have tolls on them to pay for their maintenance.  Roads funded by property tax are quite inequitable.  Does the taxpayer live on a two lane country road with ditches, or a four lane boulevard with curbs, sidewalks, and crosswalks?  Should the more urbanized user pay a higher tax or should the country dweller pay more because there are fewer taxpayers on his road to nowhere?

If water lines run for miles with one or two cutomers there is inequity in that solution as well.  High volume water users generally are associated with some types of manufacturing which generates more truck traffic and other impacts that come with it.  Maybe water money should be allowed to help pay for additional policing of the areas using water or to supplement fire protection of those manufacturers.

Communities have to do this balancing act all the time with their general funds.  Departments that come up short in their enterprise funds get help from the general fund.  Why shouldn’t an enterprise fund be able to help support the general fund in some circumstances?