House Bill 264, what co-primary sponsor State Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) called “an awesome bill,” was unanimously approved by the Ohio House on Dec. 16.
Wilkin and fellow representative Michael O’Brien (D-Warren) are both former county commissioners and recognized the need for the measure, which allows the Ohio Water Development Authority to refinance loans when interest rates drop. In turn, Wilkin said the measure will allow communities to save money in the long run.
The agency assists local governments throughout the state with environmental infrastructure financing.
“I call it the ‘OWDA bill,’” Wilkin said. “It comes from my experience as a Highland County commissioner, and specifically, was influenced by what’s been going on in Mowrystown.”
As reported earlier this year, Mowrystown’s sewer system and wastewater treatment plant have been a source of fiscal issues for both the village and Highland County for more than a decade.
According to information provided by the Highland County commissioners’ office, the county took out a loan of more than $2 million about 15 years ago to pay for the treatment plant’s construction. Since then, the village has been struggling to keep up with paying the county back.
Commission president Jeff Duncan said that, prior to his election to the Ohio House of Representatives, Wilkin had been working on a re-financing package to lower the village’s interest rate.
“When the sewer system went in there, they had to put together a financing package that included OWDA, USDA and the Ohio Public Works Commission,” he said. “All of these agencies had different financing opportunities and different interest rates, and imagine the savings for a community if they could save two percent on a $1 million loan.”
He said, for example, Mowrystown’s rate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was 4.125 percent with a balance Wilkin estimated to be between $650,000 and $675,000.
If the bill is signed into law by Gov. DeWine, the village may be able to re-finance with a lower rate between 2 to 2.5 percent, and Wilkin said, if certain criteria such as population and income are met, that rate could go lower.
Wilkin said the OWDA was allowed to finance projects like the one in Mowrystown, but the statute didn’t allow the state agency to re-finance sewer and water infrastructure projects.
The measure earned what Wilkin called “widespread respect and support” from state and local officials, including the Ohio Municipal League and the County Commissioners Association of Ohio. The measure passed unanimous out of committee with zero opposition and was one of the few bills that passed unanimous from the floor of the Ohio House.
“It will reach across the entire state of Ohio into any town, village, township, city or county,” he said. “Between the new year coming up next week and 2027, there will be about $2.1 billion in bonds that will become callable and with this bill, OWDA will now be able to re-finance them.”
Another advantage, Wilkin said, is the agency’s AAA bond rating, which will assure municipalities and counties they will get a better interest rate.
“In addition, there is roughly $20 million a year in USDA loans that will become available for them to look at when re-financing,” he said.
In 2018, the Ohio Water Development Authority approved loans totaling nearly $944 million for the planning and construction of water, sewer, brownfield remediation, and solid waste facilities.
OWDA funded 380 projects in 84 of the 88 counties in Ohio. Those projects replaced aging infrastructure, expanded capacity of treatment plants, and installed technology for better water quality.
“It is a really good tool for local governments like ours in Highland County and the other communities I represent in the district in that it allows them to save money and be more efficient,” he said. “It’s purely permissive, which means they don’t have to use it if they don’t want to, and if they can get a better rate somewhere, that’s fine.”
The bill is awaiting consideration in the Ohio Senate.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571