OCEA gets approval for sewer, surcharge increases

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By Kenny Colston

Customers of the Oldham County Environmental Authority can expect to see an average increase of seven and a half dollars in their monthly bills soon.

OCEA, also known as Veolia Water, was granted a 4.5 percent rate increase for sewer charges, as well as a $5.59 flat increase to a monthly surcharge by the Oldham County Fiscal Court Tuesday. According to figures given by OCEA, the increases amount to an extra $7.43 a month for the average customer.

The Oldham County Fiscal Court approved the increase by voice vote at its bi-monthly meeting Tuesday.

The increases are due to work upgrading the system’s infrastructure and plants to conform to EPA standards, OCEA Treasurer Art Hinson said. And the funds also help cover new plants OCEA is in the process of or need to build in the future, he told county magistrates.

“We’re building a new $10 million plant and the debt payments will kick up over time and the surcharge will increase as that happens,” he said.

Hinson said that once the new plant goes active, the hope is new residential and business customers will use OCEA and those funds will offset increased surcharge amounts. But he said the utility hadn’t researched what the future increases could be year after year.

“The projection of what our rate increase will be in the future, we’ve not done that yet,” he said.

Many of the magistrates expressed displeasure at the increase, but said after multiple discussions with OCEA, they weren’t sure how else to proceed.

“No one takes giving OCEA a raise lightly,” Magistrate Kevin Eldridge said. “But we don’t see any way around it. They have obligations with the Kentucky Division of Water, obligations to their creditors and an obligation to the county.”

Magistrate JD Sparks questioned whether the increase should be on the ballot because he said it wa more than a four percent tax increase, but County Judge-Executive David Voegele said the increase is an utility fee, so it doesn’t apply under the same law.

Magistrate Bob Leslie said he would vote against the measure, even though OCEA doesn’t operate in his district.

“I understand your position and where you are,” he said. “But I’m going to vote no, because I made a campaign promise not to increase fees and when I give my word, I keep it.”

Voegele who only votes in a tie, said he supported the measure because he didn’t see any other option for OCEA to cover its debt payments.

“Our back is against the wall, we have all these environmental mandates,” he said. “I believe the service is well delivered, well done, it’s not inexpensive by any means.”

Magistrate Bob Dye, who said three of the communities in his district operate under OCEA, said he supports the increase because the new plant will rid his district of a foul-smelling outdated plant currently.

“I did the math on this, its 25 cents a day,” Dye said. “I guarantee the more than 1,000 residents in those communities would double down and pay 50 cents a day to get rid of that rancid smell.”

The stormwater rate will remain unchanged for the current year.

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