Tuesday, Nov 13, 2018
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Water rates key in determining who will join new Toledo-led commission

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Now that Toledo voters have given city officials permission to form a new regional water commission, it’s time to figure out who all will participate.

Toledo’s current water customers include Lucas County, Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Whitehouse, Fulton County, Monroe County, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District. Several are studying whether they can get better service and rates by providers outside of Toledo.

Ed Moore, Toledo’s public utilities director, said Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz’s plan to create the commission is the best option for everyone.

Seeing voters on Tuesday approve Issue 15, which amends Toledo City Charter to make forming the commission possible, shows Toledoans support the mayor’s initiative. He’s hopeful suburban leaders will be on board, too, because they’ll each have representation on the commission that will recommend new water rates and capital improvements.

“We think the proposal that the mayor brought forward satisfies what the contract communities were looking for, which is a meaningful voice in governance and fair rates,” Mr. Moore said.

Maumee Mayor Richard Carr is still skeptical. Toledo officials in September sent out their starting proposal for a long-term uniform contract, which outlines its plan to sell water to suburban customers at a wholesale rate, to Toledoans at a retail rate, and to commercial customers at a high-volume rate.

He said the deal favors Toledo over its customers and doesn’t give the suburbs enough flexibility if they decide to look for a new water source toward the end of their contract.

“The contract they presented to us would put us in a worse position than we are currently,” he said.

Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough also has reservations about the proposed contract but is newly optimistic that the commission structure could work.

“It’s an advisory board, and if it’s allowed to function correctly it will lead to a better regional water system,” he said. “However, if it’s politically interfered with, then it will just be business as usual.”

Toledo will have two representatives on the commission while each suburb will have one. All will be utility experts, not politicians, but Toledo City Council reserves the right to veto any commission decision. Toledo officials argue they need that authority because their name is attached to the water system’s debt as it undergoes $500 million in improvements.

“This could all turn out right,” Mr. Stough said. “I was pleased to hear Toledo City Council Member Nick Komives say when interviewed on election night that he thought it’s highly unlikely Toledo City Council would ever try to veto the action of the commission.”

Mr. Komives said the chances are “very slim” that council would go against what the utility experts recommend.

The suburban leaders’ decisions to join or go elsewhere may all come down to money.

Sylvania is studying whether to connect with the Great Lakes Water Authority in Detroit or with the city of Monroe, while both Maumee and Perrysburg are looking into connecting to Bowling Green’s water supply. Nearly all of Toledo’s current customer communities are studying whether the Michindoh Aquifer could be a viable source.

Study results are slated to start rolling in by the end of this year, right around the same time Mr. Moore said he expects to have the proposed rate structure for a regional water commission nailed down. All parties hope to have a decision by early 2019.

Mr. Carr said he believes the regional commission is the best option for the future of northwest Ohio’s future, but Maumee City Council has a responsibility to find the best water rates for their citizens.

“We may find out the alternative is far better,” he said.

But Mr. Moore is confident the regional water commission can be structured in a way that pleases all parties when all is said and done.

“After we get the rates done, we can sit down with the communities and have meaningful discussion about how we can develop a contract that works for everyone,” he said. “We still have a lot of heavy lifting to do now that Issue 15 has passed, but I think we’ll have a much closer picture of what this thing is going to look like by the end of the year.”

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