MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners on Thursday morning approved spending up to $27,000 for an engineering study to determine the best way to comply with EPA stormwater regulations.
Last month, commissioners met with leaders of the county's Soil and Water Conservation District to discuss the county's non-compliance since 2015 with Clean Water Act municipal stormwater provisions for urban areas, known as the MS4 program.
At that meeting, commissioners discussed a new $1.3 million stormwater utility program could cost each household in four Richland County townships as much as $36 annually, beginning in 2021.
Residents in unincorporated portions of Madison, Washington, Springfield and Mifflin townships, the four largest in the county, would be subject to the fee, which would be added to property tax bills.
Rather than move ahead now with the stormwater utility program, commissioners on Thursday opted to help fund an engineering study to identify the "most efficient, cost-effective way for the county to become compliant and stay compliant with EPA regulations."
Commissioners said the funds for the study will come from the capital improvements fund, not operating funds.
With the county's contribution, and a match from the state, commissioners and the local SWCD could spend up to $45,000 on the feasibility study.
Commissioners and the SWCD will do a joint request for qualifications to help identify the engineering firm to do the work. Commissioners said the contract with the firm will be paid on a per-hour basis.
If the study finds that a stormwater utility program is the best way to meet EPA regulations, commissioners said they would proceed with that plan.
"We're not there yet," Commissioner Marilyn John said. "I don't want to enter this under the presumption that is where we will end up. I want to be open-minded and figure it out."
SWCD Administrator Erica Thomas who began her role in December, said the study should determine the "true cost" of what it will take the county to comply with EPA regulations.
The Ohio EPA, which administers the MS4, notified the county in 2015 that it was not meeting regulations and sent a second notice of non-compliance in August 2018.
Failing to come into compliance could lead to fines of $10,000 per day, though the EPA has not indicated any plans to levy such fines. Thomas said she submitted the county's five-year plan in December and has also submitted her annual plan, but has received no feedback from the EPA.