Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Watering the countryside

The city of Toledo should not continue to irrigate the seeds of its own demise by providing more water to subsidize suburban sprawl. In that sense, we support the reluctance of Mayor Finkbeiner to jump into new water contracts with the folks in western Lucas County whose wells are drying up.

Yes, the people who live in Berkey and in Richfield, Harding, Swanton, and Providence townships are Toledo's neighbors. Many of them work here, for this is where most of the jobs are. But regional planning and cooperation must be a two-way street, and, according to the 2000 census, that street has been one-way out of the city for the past decade.

The census showed that the Toledo metropolitan area is not growing; people are simply moving out of the city to the suburbs. Water is a singularly important fuel to that movement. There is substantial growth in suburbs with Toledo water and sewers, such as Bedford Township, Michigan. Next door to Bedford in Whiteford Township, which doesn't have city water or sewers, there is little development.

Mr. Finkbeiner is correct in wanting to ensure that the city is well-compensated if, and when, it decides to extend water lines to the western reaches of the county. But, instead of simply slapping a 75 percent surcharge on city rates for those areas, perhaps some sort of revenue-sharing scheme should be explored so that Toledo benefits from suburban growth, and both benefit together. Such arrangements have proven beneficial in urban areas like Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., over many years. They serve to guard against the figurative starvation and decay of a city center while growth and prosperity sprout beneath suburban skies.

Those who have moved out of the city, or are considering doing so, must make a realistic assessment.

Is living in a rural or suburban area worth it if you can't drink the water or even launder your clothes? Do you want to subsidize, with higher taxes, the duplication of urban infrastructure, schools, and services such as refuse collection and police and fire protection, which the city already possesses at far lower cost? And what happens when the 'burbs are built up and become more like the city? In that light, the suburban rush resembles nothing so much as chasing a mirage.

Toledo may not have a legitimate growth engine that can quickly reverse the loss of 20,000 residents during the past decade, but the city has a responsibility to the 305,000 people who still live here not to quickly surrender such a valuable resource as its water. After all, taxpaying city residents have financed construction and maintenance of the city water plant to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Even if the capacity of the municipal water system, which churns out 150 million gallons a day, can be easily boosted by more than 10 percent, the city should not sell itself short.

Toledo has for many years provided water - the fuel for suburban growth - to a whole host of municipalities and townships. Now, as the wells dry up in the western townships, it is time to rigorously re-examine that policy to see what makes sense for the good of the city and, by extension, the entire region.

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