Carbon pipes in foreground, and domes are clarifiers for spent lime dewatering facility at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in Toledo.
After many starts and stops, there appears to be real progress and a possible finish line in sight for the formation of a regional water authority. And that’s a good thing.
In a memorandum of understanding between Toledo and the communities that buy its water, a sensible governance skeleton has emerged. There would be seven trustees on the authority: two appointed by the Toledo mayor; one appointed by the Lucas County commissioners; one appointed by the mayors of Sylvania, Maumee, and Whitehouse; one named by the mayor of Perrysburg; one appointed by the Fulton County commissioners and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District trustees; and a trustee named by the Lucas County commissioners on behalf of the Monroe County drain commissioner.
At one point, suburban leaders had fought for equal representation on the board. But the current proposal recognizes that Toledo would have more money, assets, and customers — and thus more risk — invested in the authority than any other partner, so its voice should be the loudest at the table. It is a fair deal, with Toledo’s power being limited by the requirement of a super majority — five votes — on major decisions, such as approving rates and fees.
But other encouraging news is that all the lead service lines will be replaced and that there will be an affordability program for low-income water customers. Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson was adamant that any agreement cover those two concerns.
Equally important as the other agreed-upon issues is that there is a deadline for the members to agree to the deal. The communities must commit by Dec. 4 so that a petition to form the authority can be filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on Dec. 29.
There are still many issues to hammer out before there will be a functioning water authority board. The parties will need to agree on the ownership issue. Toledo has invested much in Collins Park. It would be a difficult pill to swallow to surrender even partial ownership in the water treatment plant. And the parties must commit to a second intake and create redundancy to guard against a repeat of the water crisis of 2014.
Now that the Toledo mayoral election is over, the city and its neighbors can move ahead on this much needed structural reform — one which should make water safer and cheaper for all of us. The new mayor has a chance to build new relationships with the city’s neighbors and partners — and that’s a good thing, too.
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