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River City Leaders Upset by SD1 Board's Budget Decisions

"Very disappointing," said Covington City Commissioner Chuck Eilerman in reaction to the Sanitation District 1 board's decision not to fund, even in part, a sewer lateral repair program for homeowners. "Millions for hypothetical new growth, but not one red cent to assist urban homeowners in rebuilding public streets and infrastructure. There must be an equitable balance." 

Eilerman, who attended the board's lengthy meeting on Tuesday afternoon, called it "decision-making by special interests".

Mayors groups in Kenton and Campbell Counties as well as individual cities such as Covington and Newport passed resolutions urging the board to reinstate a program that once paid for the repair and replacement of broken sewer laterals, the pipes that are legally owned by a property owner and that transport waste water to the system's main pipes in the streets.

Instead, board members said that they would revisit the issue for next year's budget, opting not to take a 5% rate increase and to take $4 million from the utility's reserves to expand the system's capacity for future housing developments in Richwood and Hebron. 

Board member Rick Wessels said that SD1 needs new customers and board chair Garth Kuhnein agreed. "A plan for growth. I think that's what the board has done. A plan for growth," Kuhnein said. Wessels referred to public comments opposing the Boone Co. developments as "anti-growth".

"There are no funds in the budget to address (sewer laterals) but we would look into developing a program where we would cost-share with cities and individual property owners," Kuhnein said. "Going forward we would look at it and see if we can't reach a compromise."

The broken sewer laterals have been more frequent in the River Cities, particularly in Covington, where some have caused sinkholes in the street. The repairs can be costly, sometimes up to $15,000. The board at SD1 was not entirely unsympathetic.

"I understand the value of growth and what it brings to the district. I also understand it's got to be balanced," said board member Adam Chaney. "99.9 percent of the comments we got from the public were about the lateral issues. I know it was probably a coordinated effort. I think since we are able to fund the growth in Hebron and Richwood that we allocate some portion as a good faith gesture to the people in Covington who I feel have a legitimate issue. I don't think the homeowner, necessarily, should be paying $15 to $20,000. I think a fair proposal is to divvy this up where everybody has some skin in the game."

Newly appointed board member Robert Horine, the former Campbell County administrator, proposed a budget that would still allow for the growth in Boone County but included a 5% rate increase for sanitary sewer fees. "I think in approving that budget that we need to be responsible about what the demands are going to be in the coming years and not wait to do a rate adjustment," Horine said.

His proposal was defeated in a 5-2 vote. He was joined by Bob Schroeder on the losing side.

The budget without the rate increase and with the $4 million for Boone County developments passed 6-1 with Horine dissenting alone.

The decision upset leaders in the urban cities.

"There is a board, it's not the administration who makes these decisions, and they have a board right now that just doesn't seem to value their current customers, especially customers in the northern part of the counties," Covington Mayor Sherry Carran said. "They're taking money (out of cash reserves). There is a project in Ft. Wright that needs repairs badly and instead of repairing that they are using that to extend capacity further out in Boone County."

Covington City Manager Larry Klein said the utility's board was "raiding cash reserves". "Current rate payers get to pay for two new subdivisions in Boone County," he said.

"I'm extremely disappointed," Newport Mayor Jerry Peluso said. "This lateral issue is a problem and if we don't fix it, it doesn't get fixed. It's going to be a monumental problem and a health hazard."

The Judges/Executive of Boone, Kenton, and Campbell Counties will convene later this month to look at the budget which requires approval from the counties.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher