It only took about six weeks for Trumbull County commissioners to turn down an offer from Aqua Ohio Inc. to buy the Trumbull County Southeast Public Water District, although it is an issue that has been bubbling up for years.
The district serves part of Brookfield – Aqua already serves another part of Brookfield – Hubbard Township and Vienna.
Trustees from the townships and Aqua met in July 2020 to discuss whether Aqua would be interested in buying Trumbull’s southeast district. Then-Brookfield Trustee Gary Lees argued that it is unfair for water customers in Brookfield to pay different rates; Aqua provides better quality water; and development in Brookfield, particularly along Route 7, has been hindered because of lack of water service. Vienna Trustee Phil Pegg blasted the quality of the county’s water.
At the time, the city of Niles was seeking to annex land from areas of townships where it provides water service, and the Brookfield, Hubbard Township and Vienna trustees were fearful this could happen in their townships.
Mahoning Valley Sanitary Water District sells water to Niles, which sells it to Trumbull County, which provides it to the southeast district.
Mahoning Valley Sanitary District officials took issue with the criticism of the quality of water it provides, and said in a January 2021 letter to commissioners that it had changed its treatment process in 2014, which greatly reduced the number of instances of lime building up in water appliances such as shower heads, faucets and hot water heaters, which had been necessitating their replacement.
Aqua Ohio sent a letter to commissioners March 14 indicating its willingness to discuss purchasing the southeast water district, at an initial offer of “a minimum of $8 million.”
Aqua said that it can “readily address substantial infrastructure needs that are often cost prohibitive to municipal budgets.” It also said it would be able to partner with the county or developers to expand water service, and would “optimize water quality, enhance customer service and service reliability by leveraging statewide and corporate experience and expertise in daily operations.”
Brookfield Trustee Ron Haun asked residents on April 4 to contact the commissioners and ask them to hold an open discussion with Aqua. “I think there’s advantages going with Aqua,” he said. “I think there’s some disadvantages. The advantages are, they’re in the business of selling water, and they’re gonna be more aggressive pushing forward economic development.”
The commissioners discussed the proposal April 13, and heard presentations from Mahoning Valley Sanitary District officials, who explained system improvements that had been made, and how they had addressed past complaints about water quality. Officials also noted that MVSD is a non-profit entity, as opposed to Aqua, which is a private business.
Commissioner Frank Fuda, who lives in Niles, said he has no problem with the quality of water he receives from Niles Water, and that he has heard no complaints about the quality of the water since MVSD finished its system upgrades about five years ago.
Commissioners Fuda and Mauro Cantalamessa formally adopted a motion saying the southeast district is not for sale at their April 27 meeting.
Commissioner Niki Frenchko said she is against the sale, but voted against the motion because it left open the door to discussing a sale in the future without a formal request by the commissioners.
The Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer will assign a staff member to work with township officials on issues related to providing water service to underserved areas, the commissioners said.