Hamilton County will go to federal court to try to settle a dispute with the city of Cincinnati over hiring practices for a massive Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) project.

Commission president Chris Monzel said the county will file its suit next week in U.S. District Court here.

"We're going to ask the court to weigh in on the relationship between the city and the county, particuarly on procurement issues,'' Monzel said.

The county owns MSD, but the city of Cincinnati operates it.

At issue is whether the county or the city gets to set policy for MSD.

Tana Weingartner / WVXU

Hamilton County Commissioners are retaining Dinsmore & Shohl to review their plans to take the city of Cincinnati to court over a sewer district dispute.

The law firm is being asked to prepare the county's case and offer an outside opinion on which government entity it thinks is right. At issue is whether the county or the city gets to set policy for the Metropolitan Sewer District. The county owns the utility but it is operated by the city.

Tana Weingartner / WVXU

The debate over who sets policy for the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) is headed to a federal judge.

"We're beyond the negotiation phase," says Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann.

Hamilton County Commissioners and the City of Cincinnati are at odds over several city-instituted hiring procedures. The county says the hiring rules are illegal under Ohio Revised Code but the city argues it has home rule which trumps the O.R.C.

Tana Weingartner / WVXU

Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel is clarifying what he says are some misconceptions about the current Metropolitan Sewer District standoff with the City of Cincinnati. Specifically, procurement policies set forth by the city which the county says are unfair and in some cases illegal.

"First, at this point, only three projects are potentially being impacted due to this issue," he says. "Several others are awaiting technical evaluation and others are scheduled to be brought forward over the next several months. Many of the projects do not have time sensitive schedules."

Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) plans to reopen its water intakes along the Ohio River Thursday at 2 p.m. The utility reports water samples indicate the chemical from the Elk River spill in West Virginia has passed through the area.

“Our water quality team has not detected the chemical in the Ohio River water since 4:00 a.m. this morning,” said Tony Parrott, Executive Director of Greater Cincinnati Water Works and the Metropolitan Sewer District.

Tana Weingartner / WVXU

Hamilton County Commissioners say they're willing to work with the city but when it comes to making Metropolitan Sewer District decisions, they're in charge.

In a resolution passed Wednesday the board agreed to set inclusion goals similar to the aim of the city's Responsible Bidder ordinance. The county says that ordinance is unfair. It also dislikes the city's Local Preference policy and says it's illegal.

Hamilton County will pay nearly $2 million to clean up a mercury spill last summer at two Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) sites and the Rumpke Landfill in Colerain Township.

Tana Weingartner / WVXU

Hamilton County Commissioners are growing increasingly frustrated with Cincinnati leaders over which entity gets to set hiring policies for the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).

Commissioner Greg Hartmann is proposing the two sides come up with inclusion goals, incentive programs, and a way to support apprenticeship programs.

"I'm prepared to go to court if that's what it takes," says Hartmann. The local hiring policy passed by City Council is illegal and the responsible bidder program is flat out discrimination against non-union shops."

Tana Weingartner / WVXU

Like water rates, sewer rates in Hamilton County are increasing.

County Commissioners approved the Metropolitan Sewer District's 2014 budget, which includes a six percent rate hike. MSD is undergoing a massive multi-billion dollar system overhaul required by a federal consent decree.

MSD had asked for a $226.7 million operating budget but the county's new utility oversight director, Dave Meyer, says the sewer district can get by with $210.7 million. Commissioners chose to follow Meyer's recommendation.

Sarah Ramsey

Cincinnati and Hamilton County have been locked in a battle for more than six months about the bidding rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) construction projects. 

The county created and owns the sewer district, so it argues state and federal procurement guidelines must be used.  But Cincinnati says since it operates MSD, and the city's bidding procedures must be followed.