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Published: Tuesday, 12/31/2013 - Updated: 6 months ago

Toledo-area water rates go up today

Customers using city’s system to begin paying 13.2% more

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Higher water rates take effect today for Toledo and area suburbs that buy the city’s water.

Earlier in 2013, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell revealed his plan for phasing in the rate increases over five years.

The plan, which council approved by an 11-1 vote on April 30, will cost the average household more each year until 2018, when it will top out at an additional $125 annually compared to the 2013 average cost.

The water rate increase for 2014 is 13.2 percent.

Because the average residential customer uses 3,000 cubic feet of water per quarter, the average quarterly bill for water will increase from $43.59 to $49.35.

The Bell administration said water customers will have two rates on upcoming utility statements as 2013 rates remain the same through Dec. 31.

Mayor Bell said the increases were needed to pay for $314 million in repairs and upgrades to the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in East Toledo and the city’s water-distribution system.

Councilman Tyrone Riley cast the lone vote against the increase.

“I voted no because I felt strongly we needed to do a performance review audit before the rate increase,” Mr. Riley said. “To my knowledge we have not performed an audit, and I will still vote no.”

Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins, who takes office at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, said the increase will be a hardship on some water customers.

But he said the city was required to follow mandates by state and federal environmental regulators.

“What I am looking to do in the very near future is work with our new Public Utilities Director Robin Whitney and evaluate the overall operations, transition from two separate commuter systems and form one, and also look for every area where there is a redundancy in terms of personnel costs and where there is duplicity in terms of operational costs,” Mr. Collins said.

The city offers a “homestead rate” to qualifying customers regardless of income level. Homestead customers will be billed at a reduced rate of $12.34 for 1,000 cubic feet per quarter in 2014. “The homestead rate is provided for the primary, single-family, owner-occupied residence of Toledo homeowners who will be 65 or older or who are totally disabled,” according to a statement from the Bell administration.

Councilman Lindsay Webb, who has pushed for more water customer rights and a better appeal process, said she expects those measures to be approved in 2014.

“I think there are a number of projects and the case was made for the rate increases, but the case has also been made for increased accountability,” Ms. Webb said. “I hope with this new council and new mayor we can include provisions for accountability for customers and ratepayers.”

The upgrades are to include a new 40-million-gallon redundant treatment unit. It will cost $96.6 million and is needed to take the system’s 80-million-gallon treatment unit offline for repairs. That was built in 1941.

The Ohio EPA called the condition of the plant’s roof above the flocculation and filter buildings a major problem. The city has approved borrowing $15 million for that project.

The other Ohio EPA findings include a lack of reliability because of the age and condition of essential equipment, not enough onsite gaseous chlorine, and inadequate onsite aluminum sulfate storage.

The water treatment facility also has an “obsolete” supervisory control and data acquisition system, the state agency said.

That will cost $5 million.

The plan also includes spending about $10 million a year for the next five years to replace underground water lines, which — on average — are 72 years old.

Without the fixes to the system, Mr. Bell said there would inevitably be a “critical incident” forcing everyone who uses Toledo water to live with a boil advisory.

The upgrades are funded through 20 years of bonds financed at a little more than 3 percent. The water rate increases back those bonds.

The Ohio EPA sent two teams to review the water treatment plant because of a failure in March, 2012, of the pump station in Jerusalem Township that sends Lake Erie water to the Collins Park plant.

A 6-inch solid steel shaft broke and fragments were sucked into two of the four pumps at that facility.

In August, 2011, the low-service pump station failed and had to be shut down. It prompted a nearly four-hour race to get the system working before emergency water supplies ran out. If repairs had taken just a few hours longer or the shutdown had happened during a period of peak water consumption, the distribution system that serves thousands of homes and businesses could have been infiltrated by contaminated water.

The city’s plan also includes $18.34 million in improvements for the low-service pump station.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.



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