Infrastructure Week Highlights Urgent Need to Invest in our Declining Transportation and Water and Sewer Systems

May 15th, 2017

By Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Infrastructure Week is May 15 – 19, 2017.  GOPC considers infrastructure, especially transportation and water infrastructure, to be vital components of Ohio’s economic revitalization agenda.  During Infrastructure Week, groups across the nation are holding events and doing everything they can to draw attention to the unacceptable condition of the nation’s infrastructure.  Overall, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives U.S. infrastructure a grade of “D+”.  Although the term “infrastructure” usually brings to mind surface transportation – roads, bridges, and railways – the ASCE’s concerns extend to many forms of infrastructure that make a modern economy work, including drinking water and wastewater systems, air travel, ports, and the electrical transmission grid.   The ASCE estimates that underinvestment will cause the average family to lose $3,400 each year as a result of infrastructure deficiencies. 

As seen in the chart below, public sector spending on infrastructure declined from nearly 3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the late 1950s to just above 2.5% today.  Although federal policy definitely shapes overall societal policy choices (e.g., the interstate highway system), the chart also makes it clear that states and local governments have been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to infrastructure spending, and probably will continue to do so in the future.  Federal outlays in recent years been about 0.6% of GDP, about one-fourth the state and local government total.

 Infrastructure Spending as a Percentage of U.S. GDP

infrastructure chart

Source: GOPC analysis of BEA and CBO data.

Across the country, states are doing what they can to take charge of their own destiny, including finding ways to pay for what they need to improve transportation.  Most states, and the federal government, rely on gasoline excise taxes to pay for surface transportation.  For many years, discussions about raising the gasoline tax were off the table at both the state and federal levels.  The federal gasoline tax has not been raised since 1993; Ohio’s has been the same since 2005.  This inaction meant that state transportation budgets have failed to keep pace with inflation, putting more pressure on their ability to perform basic maintenance.  As the economy has improved, however, state leaders have put together coalitions to support improved funding.  Since 2012, nearly half the states have adjusted their approaches to taxing gasoline.  Some of the most recent to move in this direction in 2017, including Indiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee, are generally considered to be fiscally conservative states.  These changes at the state level may build momentum for a reexamination of transportation funding at the federal level. 

The country’s focus on infrastructure is not only an opportunity to rebuild, but also to improve and rethink what we need to be successful in the 21st Century, as GOPC outlined in a Cincinnati Enquirer op-ed.  Proceeds from the state gasoline tax in Ohio are constitutionally required to be spent on highways, and do not address the needs of Ohio’s residents for public transit or alternative modes of travel such as biking or walking.  Despite an increased transfer of federal funds to public transit in the Ohio Department of Transportation budget, Ohio’s overall state level of support for public transit is minimal compared to that of other states.  GOPC believes that future state transportation reform should include a dedicated revenue source for public transit that will help local transit authorities design the kind of flexible and affordable systems that Ohioans deserve. 

 

Economic Impact Analysis Reveals Added Value to US Economy of Investing in Water Infrastructure and Warns of Multiplying Costs if Funding Gap is Deferred

April 7th, 2017

By John Collier, GOPC Intern

The Value of Water Campaign recently released the Economic Impact of Investing in Water Infrastructure – a report aimed at quantifying the economic impact water infrastructure has on the US economy. The campaign brings together leading water industry experts to better understand the economic benefits associated with closing the funding gap for water infrastructure spending, as well as the potential costs of failing to do so.

The US is at a tipping point when it comes to its water infrastructure. The infrastructure built in the last century, with a lifespan of 75 to 100 years, is coming to the end of its lifespan. Estimates from the American Society of Civil Engineers suggest the US will need to spend a minimum of $123 billion per year on capital improvements over the next 10 years to maintain a good state of repair. To put the scale of this infrastructure improvement into perspective, the report states that one-third of US water mains will need replaced by 2040. Current funding levels at all levels of government are not sufficient, and leave a sizeable funding gap. The report notes that aggregate capital spending across the local, state, and federal levels is only $41 billion per year, leaving an $82 billion annual funding gap. If current needs are left unmet, the report warns this funding gap will increase to $109 billion per year by the year 2026.

The benefits of meeting the funding gap are bigger than simply avoiding service disruptions, and would ripple to the farthest reaches of the economy. The US stands to gain $220 billion dollars in annual economic activity and would create 1.3 million jobs nationwide over ten years, should the water infrastructure funding gap be closed. Many of these jobs that are involved in the design and construction of improved water infrastructure are well paying and are attainable with a high school diploma. Moreover, indirect effects of investing in construction would create positive indirect effects on the economy, such as the purchase of working supplies in interrelated industries. An added benefit to the investment is the $94 billion businesses would save each year due to no longer needing to fund their own water supplies.

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        Water Treatment Plant. Photo credit: Wikicommons

The campaign asserts that as the nation moves to assess and repair its aging infrastructure, there is need for significant federal investment. From 1977 to 2014, federal contributions have fallen from 63 percent of total spending to 9 percent of total capital spending on water infrastructure. Much of the burden has been picked up at the local level – per capita spending by local communities has risen from $45 in 1977 to upwards of $100 in 2014.

Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) recently released Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure, a report exploring the opportunities at the state level to ensure long-term financial stability of Ohio’s water infrastructure. The use of asset-management, regionalization, and private-public partnerships may be the key for the financial stability of Ohio’s water systems and adequately funding capital improvements.  Affordability is becoming more of a strain for some communities as user charges continue to increase in parallel with national trends. 

Modernizing the water system for the 21st century remains one of GOPC’s main policy objectives. GOPC is in the midst of a multi-year project on Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure – and is currently identifying the best practices from around the nation.

For further resources and reports, please visit GOPC’s Sewer and Water Infrastructure Resource Page

 

President’s Budget Blueprint Reduces Overall Federal Support for Water Infrastructure

April 6th, 2017

By Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

In March 2017, the Trump Administration released its summary budget blueprint for Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2018, which begins October 1, 2017.  The plan signals the administration’s overall intention to cut non-defense domestic programs in order to free up funds for increased military spending.  There is a long road to travel before any parts of the plan are enacted, and many members of Congress have already gone on record expressing reservations about specific elements of the proposal.  Nonetheless, the blueprint creates a starting point for agency budget plans that will be presented to Congress in the coming months.   

This blog discusses the administration’s proposed changes to how the federal government will support investments in water infrastructure.  The Trump Administration’s budget blueprint would eliminate the USDA Rural Development water and wastewater loan program, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and the U.S. Department of Commerce – Economic Development Administration (EDA).   The plan would preserve funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) water and wastewater revolving loan funds, although the agency as a whole would face a 31 percent budget reduction, resulting in the elimination of 3,200 agency staff positions and a 45 percent reduction in categorical grant programs.  One of these categorical grant programs provides states with funding for the oversight of local drinking water systems.  It helps pay for the Ohio EPA to monitor local compliance with protocols for the control of lead and other contaminants. 

The budget proposal should be analyzed in the context of the nation’s critical need to modernize drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure.  This issue is a high priority for Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) because of its links to economic development, land use planning, and the potential for financial strain on Ohio families and communities (see our recent Water Infrastructure reports).  According to EPA estimates, Ohio water utilities (typically local governments) will need to make capital investments of $26 billion in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to meet identified needs over the next 20 years.   User charges have been rising steadily, faster than the rate of general consumer inflation. 

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                           Photo courtesy of Wikicommons

The federal government plays a major role in financing water infrastructure investments, although the approach has changed significantly over the decades.  With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in the early 1970s, Congress created a large grant program to assist local governments with the modernization of wastewater treatment plants and related infrastructure.  The federal government paid 75 percent of project costs in the initial program, which was changed to 55 percent in the 1980s.  This was one of largest federal infrastructure programs since the interstate highway program of the 1950s and 1960s. 

In the late 1980s, Congress phased out the wastewater grant program in favor of a revolving loan approach.  A revolving loan for drinking water infrastructure was added in the late 1990s.  Under the current policy, each year the U.S. EPA provides a capitalization grant to state revolving loan funds which lend directly to local governments at subsidized interest rates.  The state must provide a 20 percent match for the grant.  In FFY 2016, the Ohio EPA received a $75.2 million capitalization grant for its Water Pollution Control Loan Fund, and $23.1 million for the Drinking Water Assistance Fund.   Communities that want a market-rate loan with fewer administrative hurdles can approach the Ohio Water Development Authority, which runs a state-supported revolving loan fund.   

The result of this change in federal strategy is that local communities bear the largest responsibility for financing water infrastructure.  Communities that need a grant to complete their capital project must rely on other sources, which are extremely limited and competitive.  At the federal level, these sources include the USDA Rural Development – Water and Wastewater Loan program, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the Community Development Block Grant, and the Economic Development Administration.  The USDA and ARC programs are targeted at smaller, low income communities in rural counties that need them the most.  In FFY 2016, USDA Rural Development made 17 grants for a total of $14 million to Ohio communities, and an additional 16 loans for $44.6 million.  The ARC, a smaller agency, made 12 water infrastructure grants for a total of $2.7 million in Ohio.  The CDBG provides several million dollars in Ohio each year for water and infrastructure through its Critical Infrastructure Program.  (For more information on the challenges of water infrastructure in Ohio, see panelist presentations from GOPC’s Investing in Ohio’s Future 2017 Summit and our report Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure). 

The Budget Blueprint asserts that the USDA and EDA programs are duplicative of the state revolving funds and other programs, and that the CDBG is “not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.” The ARC is part of a long list of small, independent agencies slated for elimination.  The administration’s claims deserve close scrutiny from Congress, however.  The underlying issue is whether the federal government has any responsibility to provide grants, and the importance of grants in sustaining investments by small communities.  For small towns, grant funding can provide the missing piece of capital that makes a project affordable.  In Ohio, state and federal agencies have worked together for decades and often find ways to share responsibility for financing projects in small communities.  An interagency Small Communities Environmental Infrastructure Working Group (SCEIG), meets regularly throughout the year to provide advice to local governments seeking financing, and coordinates technical assistance programs. 

The elimination of these three federal programs would make the Ohio Public Works Commission (OPWC) the only significant remaining source of grant funding for water infrastructure in the Buckeye state.  (The EPA revolving loan funds have a limited number of loans that allow partial principal forgiveness.)  Most OPWC projects are prioritized at the local district level, and must compete with transportation projects.  In the context of rising concerns in Ohio and nationally about the affordability of infrastructure, a “one size fits all” approach to financing may backfire. 

For further resources and reports, please visit GOPC’s Sewer and Water Infrastructure Resource Page

 

GOPC’s Recommendation to Boost Public Transit Included in 2018-19 Ohio Senate Transportation Budget

March 27th, 2017

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

This is the third in a series of articles taking a closer look as specific items contained in the Governor’s proposed budget for FY2018-19, which the legislature must pass by June 30, 2017. The second article is available here.

Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) would like to thank the Ohio Senate for approving a transportation budget that would allocate an additional $15 million over two years to public transportation. In alignment with GOPC’s recommendations that Ohio repower its ailing bus fleet, the Senate’s budget would support a new grant program using funds from the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund to support public transit.

In a strong bipartisan effort, the Ohio Senate unanimously approved Am. Sub. HB 26, the state transportation budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 on March 22nd. All 24 Republican members and the 9 Democratic members of the chamber voted to support passage of the budget. Over the course of eight hearings, Senators heard testimony from a number of organizations, including GOPC, who advocated for an increase in funding for public transportation.

As GOPC noted in testimony before the Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee last week, Ohio appropriates only 2% of the state transportation budget to public transportation, while peer states spend between 10-20% of their transportation funds on transit-related needs and services. Governor Kasich’s proposed budget recommended spending an additional roughly $33 million annually in federal highway “flex” funds for public transit capital appropriations (purchasing new “rolling stock”, or buses), which was an increase of $10 million per year over the current budget.

GOPC thanks the members of the Ohio Senate for recognizing the need for additional support for public transit in the state and encourages the Ohio House of Representatives to support this Senate-backed provision in the budget.

In testimony, GOPC encouraged the legislature to spend an additional $17 million per year, boosting overall funding in public transportation to $50 million annually. The Senate-approved budget plan to strengthen public transportation using Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Funds would support a grant program that assists local transit agencies in purchasing new buses and transit vans across the state.

Later that same day, the Ohio House, which was the first to pass the transportation budget on March 1, voted to reject the full slate of Senate-approved changes 88-0. The bill now moves to a conference committee which will settle the differences between the two bills. Final passage of the budget bill will occur later this week, as state law requires Governor Kasich to sign the transportation budget by April 1.  

Learn more about GOPC’s policy research and advocacy to modernize Ohio’s transportation system

 

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Southwest Ohio’s Pipeline H2O Launches Program for Upgrading Sewer and Water Infrastructure

January 31st, 2017

By Nick Livingston, GOPC High School Intern

Pipeline H2O, a water-based startup technology program located in Hamilton, Ohio, has just announced its first class of companies that are working on water infrastructure challenges. Pipeline H2O’s main objective is to acknowledge and advance the work of water technology companies improve water services and seek innovative strategies for reusing water, upgrading infrastructure, treating wastewater, and monitoring water quality. This timely news coincides with GOPC recently beginning the Implementation Phase of its Water Financing Project, providing recommendations on strengthening the long-term sustainability of water infrastructure in Ohio. 

At the end of the selection process, Pipeline H2O chose eight startup companies to begin the program, including two companies from Ohio: kW river Hydroelctric from Hamilton, and Searen from Cincinnati. Companies that have been selected to participate in the Pipeline H2O program exhibit through their work many of the strategies that GOPC recommends in its recent report, Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure: Financing and Policy. For instance, WEL Enterprise’s system that treats and reclaims wastewater on one platform is a strong example of developing new technologies in order to save energy costs, which is a strategy GOPC recommends in its report.  

GOPC‘s report also emphasizes the importance of asset management, which is the process of cost-effectively upgrading and maintaining assets. The companies selected for the Pipeline H20 program are efficient in maintaining resources and saving money while upgrading water quality, demonstrating sound asset management techniques.  For instance, the Aquatech startup Searen has created a Vacuum Airlift, which replaces legacy hardware and consolidates pieces of equipment. In addition, GOPC’s call for public-private partnership to make projects more flexible and timely can be seen through Pipeline H2O’s partnership with government agencies such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Hamilton, and the City of Cincinnati.

Go Here to access GOPC’s latest report Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure: Financing and Policy and Here for more on Pipeline H20’s inaugural class of water technology companies

Pipeline H20’s assessment was handled by a committee composed of water experts, including Greater Cincinnati Water Works, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, City of Hamilton Water, Confluence, Butler County Groundwater Consortium, U.S. EPA, Hamilton Mill, Cintrifuse, Village Capital, and Queen City Angels.  New and innovative ideas concerning water development will be introduced throughout the region from the selected companies, and the Pipeline H2O program will be set in action from February 2017 through May 2017.

 

Season’s Greetings! GOPC’s 2016 Accomplishments and a 2017 Preview

December 20th, 2016

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Pictured from left: Jason Warner, Sheldon Johnson, Alex Highley, Meg Montgomery, Torey Hollingsworth, Jon Honeck, Alison Goebel, and John Collier

 

Dear Friends,

From everyone at the Greater Ohio Policy Center, we wish you a safe and enjoyable holiday season!

Throughout 2016, GOPC has been a leader in championing revitalization and sustainable growth in Ohio, ensuring the state is equipped with policies and practices that create robust cities and regions. With so much happening around Ohio, the past twelve months have proven to be busy and rewarding for GOPC in equal measure. We introduced Alison Goebel as our new Executive Director following the departure of Lavea Brachman, and in conjunction with this smooth transition, we achieved many important goals and started planning for even greater success next year. In 2016, we:

  • Published original research reports on many critical revitalization issues in Ohio, including:

o   Akron Urban Health and Competitiveness Report finds that Akron is at a crossroads for further growth and economic development.  This work received extensive coverage from news media, including Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and WCPN

o   Transportation Modernization Memos analyze strategies that improve multimodal transportation and underscore the outsized economic benefits of implementing policies that support all modes

o   Credit Gaps in Opportunity Neighborhoods assesses redevelopment needs and highlights the barriers to revitalization in many of Ohio’s opportunity neighborhoods

o   Green Infrastructure for Stormwater Control analyzes grey and green water and sewer infrastructure and highlights modern, cost-effective strategies for maintaining aging stormwater systems

o   Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities highlights the serious economic and demographic challenges facing smaller legacy cities – received extensive coverage from news media, including WKSU Chillicothe Gazette, and Youngstown Business Journal 

  • Hosted a successful Webinar, attended by over 150 people, examining how Ohio’s smaller legacy cities from Akron to Zanesville have fared over the past 15 years
  • Presented our work at over 25 conferences and meetings in Akron, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Marietta, Toledo, Washington DC, and Youngstown
  • Testified at the statehouse on state policy on issues concerning revitalization including active transportation, foreclosure reform, and brownfield redevelopment
  • Launched brand new Water and Sewer Infrastructure and Smaller Legacy Cities web resources with up-to-date news, original research, and previews of upcoming reports

Coming in 2017…

In 2017, we will build on this momentum and to continue to underscore the importance of Ohio’s cities as the economic drivers of the state. With partners from around the state and nation, we look forward to continuing to research and advocate for policies that revitalize neighborhoods, diversify transportation systems, modernize water and sewer infrastructure, and build strong cities and regions in Ohio.

We can’t wait to host our 2017 Summit, Investing in Ohio’s Future: Maximizing Growth in our Cities and Regions on March 7th & 8th in Columbus. The Summit will explore best practices in financing and accelerating comprehensive and sustainable growth in communities throughout Ohio. We are meticulously planning an exciting and informative event that we predict will be our best Summit yet. We hope you join us!

If you believe in creating vibrant, sustainable cities and regions in Ohio, we invite you to support GOPC with a year-end contribution. We are grateful for your support.

Warm wishes for 2017,

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Alison Goebel and the Greater Ohio Policy Center Team

 

GOPC Testifies on Active Transportation’s Cost Savings, Safety Benefits, and Range of Choice at the Ohio Statehouse

November 28th, 2016

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

During two hearings before the Joint Task Force for Transportation Issues and the Joint Education Oversight Committee last week, GOPC promoted the need for, and benefits of, an Active Transportation policy being adopted for both Ohio’s transportation infrastructure plan, as well as a means to reduce costs around school transportation in the state.

Active Transportation, by definition any human-power transportation system such as walking or bicycling, is increasing in frequency across the state for a variety of reasons. Currently, 33 other states have a statewide active transportation policy. GOPC advocates for an Ohio Active Transportation policy that is sensitive to context (rural vs. suburban vs. urban) and that would facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people and goods. GOPC is involved with ODOT and Department of Health’s working group devoted to creating an effective statewide Active Transportation policy that enables safe, convenient, and comfortable travel and access across transportation modes for users of all ages and abilities.

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GOPC Manager of Government Affairs Jason Warner

Nationally, the number of fatalities resulting from traffic collisions involving motor vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists is rising. Statistics provided by the Governors Highway Safety Association show a 10% increase during the first half of 2015 over the same time period of the previous year. Sadly, Ohio led all other states, with an increase of 124% in pedestrian fatalities during that period. To boost safety, policymakers should look to implement policies that accommodate more types of users, such as bikers and pedestrians. Encouragingly, a 2015 analysis of 37 Active Transportation projects across the country determined that the projects avoided a total of $18.1 million in collision and injury costs in one year alone.

Active Transportation policies that support and promote multimodal usage result in safer streets, minimize the flow of cars, and often increase economic activity along the modified route.  GOPC’s full testimony before the Joint Transportation Task Force on November 15 is available here, while the Joint Education Oversight Committee testimony from November 17 is available here.

Go here to learn more about GOPC’s research and advocacy on this important issue!

 

Field Day Provides Learning Opportunity about Drinking Water, Wastewater Management Process

November 9th, 2016

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

GOPC, with colleagues from County Commissioners Association of Ohio, Ohio Municipal League and The Ohio State University Extension, recently met with Karen Mancl, a professor at The Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences to learn about drinking water and wastewater management processes in Ohio and to build on GOPC’s knowledge and expertise in this important issue area. As part of the meeting, GOPC embarked on a tour of the Westerville Water Treatment Plant to observe all of the necessary treatment steps in order to deliver clean, high-quality drinking water to homes and businesses in Ohio.

In Ohio, drinking water regulations are governed by two separate statues, the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, and Ohio Revised Code (ORC) Chapter 6109, the Safe Drinking Water statute. While the federal Safe Drinking Water Act develops national drinking water standards and establishes requirements for treatment, monitoring, and reporting by public water systems, ORC 6109 enables the state to assume and retain primary enforcement responsibilities of the state’s public water systems (by definition, any water connection that contains at least 15 connections and regularly serves an average of at least 25 people at least 60 days per year).

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Water Treatment Plant. Source: Wikicommons

Since first enactment, the number of drinking water standards public systems must meet has increased significantly, with more than 160 standards now required. These standards include primary regulations designed to protect the public health (which are enforceable and, if not met can result in criminal prosecution for officials involved) and secondary recommended standards, which regulate everything from taste, odor, and appearance and are designed to help protect the public welfare. To meet these standards, drinking water must go through several “treatment barriers” that are designed to ensure all requirements are met.

While touring the Westerville Water Treatment Facility, we observed these treatment barriers in action. Westerville’s water, which is sourced via Alum Creek, is pumped into the facility and goes through the first barrier known as “clarification.” Through clarification, the water is pre-chlorinated for algae control to remove any biological growth in the water, and coagulation via slow-sand filtration, again to remove any remaining biological growth. These phases are designed to separate any solid materials which could be in the water, and are critical to the primary regulation process designed to protect the public health.

Next, the water goes through a filtration process to remove any particles from the water. This is done by pumping the water into large storage tanks that contain carbon. The filter, which is 2 to 3 stories tall, acts in the same manner as an in-home water filter attached to a faucet. Finally, the water goes through a third and final disinfection process where it is treated with chlorine to kill any remaining bacteria or pathogens. From start to finish, the process takes roughly 14 hours and Westerville treats up to 4 million gallons of water each day for a system that serves up to 60,000 residents and daily workers in the city.

Learn more about the water treatment process and visit GOPC’s Water and Sewer Infrastructure page to access the latest news as well as GOPC research and analysis of solutions to modernizing Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure systems.

Finally, special thanks to GOPC Board Member, Cheryl Subler with the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, for arranging this great “all access” educational session and tour.

 

Mid-Sized Cities with Declining Populations Face Water Infrastructure Dilemma

October 31st, 2016

By John Collier, GOPC Research & Conference Support Intern, and Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

The United States Government Accountability Office recently released a report on the water infrastructure dilemma occurring in the United States’ mid-sized and large cities with declining population.  GAO’s analysis was requested by Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY), to understand the unique challenges these cities face in repairing and replacing water and sewer infrastructure.   The GAO noted that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) surveys of water utilities estimate that over 20 years, $655 billion will have to be spent to maintain, replace, or upgrade the country’s water infrastructure.

GAO interviewed water and wastewater utility officials in 10 cities in the Midwest and Northeast, including Youngstown, Ohio, that experienced large population declines between 1980 and 2010.  Youngstown lost 42% of its population over this time frame.  GAO acknowledged that mid-sized to larger cities with declining populations are generally more economically distressed, and suffer from higher unemployment, higher poverty rates, and lower median incomes. These cities, whose peak population typically was in the 1950s and 1960s, suffer from decreased revenue and increased costs. The characteristics of these legacy cities put them in a unique financial bind.

Nearly all the cities in the report expressed concerns over their ability to control combined sewer overflows. Outdated infrastructure in these legacy cities needs updated, but their financial situation makes this difficult.  All the selected cities in the report have raised utility rates in an effort to raise more revenue, but this results in affordability problems for low-income households.  Low-income households in Youngstown now pay over 8% of their median income for their water and sewer bills on a combined basis, well above EPA guidelines for affordability of 3%.  Although Youngstown and other cities have established payment plans to make utility access affordable for lower-income households, it does not discount bills for low-income households, and the prospect of future rate increases will continue to make affordability difficult. 

One of the interesting findings from the report was that the utilities in the study are adopting asset management plans, but it is very difficult to downsize or “rightsize” their infrastructure despite large areas of vacant housing or vacant land.  Asset management refers to creating a comprehensive inventory of the utility assets and their condition, and integrating this data with maintenance and capital planning.  The utilities noted that downsizing was difficult because they still had to service a few houses in each block, or maintain lines through vacant areas in order to reach neighborhoods farther away.  This response illustrates how difficult it is to separate infrastructure planning from overall land use planning. 

Greater Ohio Policy Center considers the modernization of Ohio’s water infrastructure a critical issue. GOPC has conducted an assessment of the issues Ohio’s legacy cities face, and the need for additional mechanisms, such as green infrastructure as an alternative stormwater management tool.  We believe that asset management and regional consolidation are key outcomes that could be accelerated with additional state incentives.     

More information about water infrastructure and links to GOPC’s reports can be found Here.

 

GOPC Staff Speaks at MORPC Summit on Sustainability and the Environment

October 25th, 2016

By Jon Honeck, Ph.D., GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Overview

On Friday, October 21, I had the privilege of being a panelist at the MORPC Summit on Sustainability and the Environment, held at the Columbus Hilton Downtown.  The panel’s title was “Looking Ahead, What Are the Important Sustainability Policy Issues?”  The other panelists included Kent Scarrett of the Ohio Municipal League, Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council, and Holly Nagle of the Columbus Chamber.  Panelists were asked to speak about upcoming issues in the lame duck state legislative session and the 2017 state budget process.  In the short run, panelists agreed that Ohio’s renewable portfolio energy standards are likely to be a top priority of the General Assembly when it returns after the 2016 election.  For the 2017 budget process, I focused my presentation on transportation, water and sewer infrastructure, brownfield remediation, and application of public nuisance statutes to commercial and industrial property. 

Transportation

GOPC is trying to improve state funding for public transit and advocate that the state make progress in an “active transportation” strategy that makes roadways safe for all users, including bicyclists and pedestrians.   The Ohio Department of Transportation budget is considered separately from the state main operating budget bill.  The budget scenario for public transit funding is difficult.   Currently the state only provides about 3 percent of overall public transit funding, with local and federal funds providing the largest shares.  On a per capita basis, Ohio ranks 38th highest in the nation in its support for public transit.  GOPC has proposed some ways to provide dedicated funding from the state, but progress is complicated by the need to replace Ohio’s Medicaid managed care sales tax.  Seven local transit authorities rely on a local sales tax and collectively they received $33.6 million from the sales tax on Medicaid premiums. If this funding goes away without a replacement, significant service cuts will result.

Water and Sewer

Many cities across the state are facing a dual challenge of upgrading aging infrastructure and complying with EPA regulations to fix combined sewer overflows that lead to raw sewage being discharged into waterways during major storms.   Over the next 20 years, the EPA estimates that Ohio utilities will need $14.1 billion for wastewater treatment upgrades and $12.1 billion for drinking water infrastructure.  GOPC’s analysis of the problems facing Ohio legacy cities and the need for additional funding can be found here.  These estimates do not include any potential costs of lead service line replacement that may be needed in the wake of public reaction to the situation in Flint, MI.  Under Ohio House Bill 512, Ohio utilities must complete a map of all lead service water supply lines by March, 2017, a date that is in the midst of the state budget process.  The availability of this information may influence public opinion.   

With the Kasich Administration proposing its final budget, sustainability issues will have to hold their own against education, taxation, criminal justice, and other high profile issues.  GOPC will ensure that advocates are informed and can make the case for sustainability during the budget process.  For more information, please sign up for our email updates.