Toledo Blade, June 15, 2018 (report by Sarah Elms, Toledo officials: water split wouldn’t be ‘catastrophic’)
Toledoans’ water bills would skyrocket if the municipalities that buy water from Toledo’s system take their business elsewhere, a move many are considering after Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz rejected suburban leaders’ preferred plan for forming a regional water system. …
But city officials are confident they’ve avoided a worst-case scenario in which every suburban customer leaves and Toledo’s monthly water rates soar from $26.80 now to more than $82 by 2035 — a more than 205 percent increase.
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken assured Toledo officials that he will not splinter from the city’s water system and will participate in Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s own plan for achieving regional water — so long as rates are set based on the water and services county residents actually use.
“That’s our largest customer. When Commissioner Gerken committed to stay with us, that’s a big deal,” said Ed Moore, Toledo’s public utilities director. “Results could have been catastrophic without Lucas County.”
Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s plan calls for establishing a regional water commission that would be comprised of utility experts from each community that agrees to buy water from Toledo. Those experts would set retail and wholesale water rates and make decisions about future capital improvements.
The deal offers suburban communities a seat at the table, something the mayor contends they won’t get if they join with water systems in Bowling Green or Detroit. But the mayor’s offer also makes clear that Toledo City Council will reserve the right to veto the commission’s decisions, a stipulation suburban leaders strongly oppose.
Toledo officials contend it’s necessary because the city bears sole responsibility to pay off the debt incurred to fund $500 million in Ohio Environmental Protection Agency-mandated system improvements. Suburban leaders argue giving Toledo veto power negates the point of a regional water system.
“If one entity controls the majority, then it’s business as usual,” Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough said after Mr. Kapszukiewicz presented his proposal to suburban leaders.
Sylvania, Perrysburg, Maumee, Whitehouse, Lucas County, Fulton County, Monroe County, and the Northwest Water and Sewer District in Wood County all currently purchase water from Toledo’s system at different rates through separate contracts that expire at various times between 2024 and 2036.
All except for Lucas County are considering buying water elsewhere by connecting to Bowling Green or Detroit’s systems, building their own water treatment plant, or switching their source of water from Lake Erie to an aquifer.
If every municipality but Lucas County breaks from Toledo’s water system, that leaves county and city residents stuck paying for the EPA-mandated improvements alone — a cost currently split nine ways. In that scenario, Toledoans would see their monthly rates climb from $26.80 now to $63.04 in 2036, a 135 percent increase. …
As part of Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s plan, Toledo would phase out the 75 percent surcharge currently imposed on Lucas County water customers and only bill for the water and services they use. It’s a deal Mr. Gerken said he can support because it is in the best interest of the ratepayers he represents as a county commissioner. …
Last month, The Blade reported 71 percent of Toledo’s residential customers — excluding seniors who receive a discount — use less water than they pay for, based on the city’s quarterly minimum charges. It’s something the Kapszukiewicz plan aims to change, along with implementing an affordability program and lead-line replacement plan …
Mr. Moore said he believes Lucas County won’t be the only current Toledo water customer to sign on to the mayor’s plan once specific water rates are all negotiated, which means everyone’s rate-hikes will be more gradual.
“We think the deal that’s on the table is a really good deal. It’s a deal that they’ve been asking for for probably three decades,” Mr. Moore said. “It charges them for only the water that they use and the services that they use.”
Toledo Blade Editorial Forward progress on water
Voters will decide this November if Toledo will form a regional water commission. In approving a regional water plan fashioned by the mayor, the Toledo City Council has moved Greater Toledo toward a system that is realistic and fair.
The new plan — if approved by voters in November — should help dispel the distrust over water rates that has poisoned the city’s relations with its neighbors for so long. But the city of Toledo must show good faith and trust the structure it will now be constructing.
Toledo has not always shown good faith. In the past, water contracts have been negotiated that were unfair, and in some cases grossly unfair, to Toledo’s neighbors.
The city’s competence has been understandably questioned as well. Toledo’s maintenance of the water system reached a low point when it was forced to issue a do-not-drink advisory for two days in 2014, after toxic algae invaded the pipes.
The Toledo City Council vote of 11-0, with one councilman absent, combined with the blessing of a self-appointed citizen group Protect Our Water, is a sign that voter approval of the Regional Water Commission is likely.
By creating the Regional Water Commission, Toledo is turning its back on the Toledo Area Water Authority, a plan that would have transferred ownership and control of the water system to an independent regional commission.
The collapse of TAWA generated bruised feelings among some of the suburban communities, Lucas County, and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce. All of those groups participated for a year in negotiations with Toledo.
The participation of Toledo’s mayor at the time, Paula Hicks-Hudson, and a member of city council, now-Lucas County Treasurer Lindsay Webb, gave other members of TAWA the impression that the city of Toledo bought into the TAWA concept.
But, when it was time to actually commit to the plan, members of city council, for understandable political and legal reasons, did not want to give up control of one of the city’s greatest assets. Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, who, ironically, ran on a platform of supporting TAWA, saw the building opposition and went to work creating an alternative plan.
The alternative plan provides regional equality in rates and participation in governance, just as TAWA, was supposed to. It doesn’t change any of the ownership or financial liability of the water treatment plant itself, thereby saving millions of dollars in unnecessary expense.
But it offers all jurisdictions an opportunity to agree to a 20-year contract with equalized rates — and rates were the main thing that needed to be corrected — as well as a role in the governance of the system.
The water experts and public utilities administrators from the participating area jurisdictions will constitute the members of the commission, and they have already been meeting and working together for months to hammer out rates for retail, wholesale, and high-volume customers.
Under the plan, Toledo City Council will retain veto power over the commission, which it must exercise within 45 days after the commission sets rates. A veto must pass the council by a three-quarters vote. It is vital that this power be used wisely, and sparingly. Toledo City Council must respect the expertise, consensus, and will of the commission. If it does, this plan will work. It it does not, more ill will, dysfunction and ultimate separation will result.
Left on the table are the questions of a second intake in Lake Erie and a plan for water supply redundancy under emergency conditions. Those issue cannot be deferred forever.
If the voters agree to this plan, and the Toledo council is responsible in its application of it, the end result will be a regional water system that will work for the city and its neighbors.
The politics — pressure, push-back, and sincere dialogue — that occurred after TAWA was proposed, was to the ultimate betterment of the greater, regional community.
Sometimes the best politics makes the best policy.
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Toledo Blade, Nov. 6, 2018 (report by Sarah Elms, Mayor’s regional water charter amendment passes) Here is a link to the entire article. The following are excerpts from that article.
“It’s a good thing for our region,” said Mayor Kapszukiewicz …”We’re encouraged that Issue 15 is on the course to pass, but this is only the next in a number of important steps that have to be taken to achieve a true regional water system.” …
Under the commission plan Toledo will retain full ownership of its water system, including the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant that is undergoing $500 million worth of improvements. Mr. Kapszukiewicz plans to appoint the city’s top two utilities experts to serve on the new commission alongside one representative each from the suburbs that opt to purchase Toledo’s drinking water.
The commission will be tasked with equalizing water rates and creating a capital improvement plan for the system, as well as implementing lead-line replacement and low-income affordability programs.
Only Toledoans voted on the charter amendment Tuesday, but suburban leaders are just as interested in the results. Mayors from Sylvania, Perrysburg, and Maumee initially backed the TAWA plan, but they’ve been less receptive to the regional water commission because it allows Toledo City Council to retain veto power over setting rates.
The suburban communities are in the process of exploring other drinking water options, including tapping into the Michindoh Aquifer straddling the Ohio-Indiana border. They’ll soon have to decide whether to stay with Toledo’s system or get their water elsewhere, now that voters have weighed in on the charter amendment. …