Leaders from Toledo and its eight water customers are one step closer to forming a regional water district under state law, but they’re bringing in outside help to find a solution all parties can agree on.
The group reached consensus Wednesday morning after more than an hour of discussion at the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments’ regional water planning committee. For months the group has been meeting to strike a deal that would equalize water rates across communities that buy water from Toledo and its Collins Park Water Treatment plant.
Officials from Toledo and its suburbs so far have been unable to reach an agreement, and some wondered aloud if they ever will.
“I don’t know how much longer we can continue to do this, where we come to a meeting and then we go backward, we come to a meeting and then we go backward,” Maumee Mayor Richard Carr said. “It’s time we move forward.”
Representatives from Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Fulton County, Lucas County, Monroe County, Whitehouse, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District voted unanimously to find a facilitator that can work with the committee’s executive board.
The end goal is to craft a regional water district, which is a political subdivision under Ohio law, with an appointed governing board and water rate structure that satisfies all parties.
Waterville Mayor Lori Brodie is a voting member of the committee but abstained because the municipality now buys its water from Bowling Green.
The vote Wednesday came after Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson outlined city officials’ take on a regional water district. She proposed the entity would start first with Toledo and Lucas County and add other communities over time.
Her next point was met with resistance from several suburban mayors. Mayor Hicks-Hudson proposed a block water rate “plus a significantly reduced surcharge,” and that the regional customers would cover the debt service of $185 million remaining in upgrades to the Collins Park plant.
Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough, chairman of the TMACOG regional water committee, said the suburban customers have been paying for about half of the ongoing improvements to the plant — including $500 million mandated by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency — through their water rates and without any ownership of the plant.
“Your piece of paper says the communities should cover that remaining $185 million in planned upgrades in addition to the 50 percent we’re already paying and have nothing to show for it,” he told Mayor Hicks-Hudson. “So instead of subsidizing you with 50 percent of the capital improvements, you want us to subsidize it with three-quarters, or more, and have no ownership position.”
Carol Contrada, a Lucas County commissioner and chairman of the regional water legal committee, emphasized Toledo’s proposal is simply a starting point and can be amended as the parties see fit, as long as all players agree to keep coming to the table.
“It’s really the limits of our imagination how we construct the board,” she said.
While the vote to bring in a mediator passed unanimously, no format for the new district has been set in stone. Suburban mayors kept up a push for more say in how the plant is run while Mayor Hicks-Hudson maintained her position that Toledo won’t give up ownership.
“I cannot, as the mayor of the city of Toledo based upon the charter that I have sworn to uphold, say that we will sell or transfer ownership of the water treatment plant,” she said. “That requires a vote of the citizens of the city of Toledo.”
The TMACOG regional water committee will meet again at 7:30 a.m. April 5 to choose a facilitator. All parties agreed to cover the cost of the facilitator based on each municipality’s water consumption percentage, which means Toledo will foot more than half the bill.
“This is the start, and now it’s just a matter of sitting down and discussing something that we can all live with that meets the same goal,” Monroe County Drain Commissioner David Thompson said.
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