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Published: Thursday, 6/26/2003

Water line sparks hot debate

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DELTA - Frustrated opponents of a proposed public water line in Swancreek Township sat in the back of last week's water board meeting chanting “Railroad, Railroad.” and trilling “Toot! Toot!” as the board discussed proceeding with plans that residents opposed 2-1 on a water board survey.

Many opponents say they're unhappy with the proposed cost - about $8,800 per dwelling - and think the public water lines are being forced upon them by a board they did not elect. Nor is it right, many say, that the issue of whether to install public water lines does not go to a ballot vote. A decision on proceeding is expected next month; opponents have said they fear a yes vote is likely.

Proponents of the water lines are scarce at such meetings, even though a few haul all of their water. The two who have taken the most public stand for water lines - Rick Kazmierczak, the Wauseon postmaster, and Dave French, a warehouse operations manager, say others are scared to speak up.

“People don't need that kind of crap,” Mr. Kazmierczak said of the often raucous water board meetings, where dissension is fueled by the well-organized Concerned Citizens of Swancreek Township.

At issue between the two groups is whether plentiful, clear, tap water is a responsibility of the community with costs shared by all homeowners or of individual residents.

“I don't understand why I have to pay for water I don't want just because somebody else wants it,” said Nancy Franklin, a real estate agent who lives on County Road 2. “You don't ask your neighbors to help pay for your driveway or landscaping.”

Mr. French said her comparisons aren't valid.

To him, fighting the water line proposal is like saying, “I don't want to pay for fire protection because my house isn't on fire. I don't want to pay for paramedics because I'm not sick. I don't want to pay for unemployment insurance because I have employment.”

Many opponents say they would rest their case, despite unhappiness, if the water line proposal passed with a majority vote at the polls. Proponents, however, say it is enough that 150 residents said they wanted public water on a water board survey of 544 homeowners in the district.

“If a third of the people want it, it certainly shows a need,” said Mike Vary, a retired millwright whose well water is running low. “Could you in good conscience look out your door every day and see a guy you knew was out of water and spend money fighting the project?” He could not say, he said, what the minimum number of people wanting public water would be for him to feel all homeowners should share in the cost of constructing lines. Mr. French and Mr. Kazmierczak also said they could not answer the question.

Taking heat from both sides is the water board, which proponents and opponents alike accuse of poor planning and poor communications.

Proponents say the board should have known that an estimated assessment of $11,263 per household last year could be reduced, and announcing it riled up foes.

Some opponents have said they thought the board would go along with the wishes of the majority of the residents and feel betrayed by members who they believe are ignoring the water board's own survey.

A few foes had hopes raised by water board member Mark Fowler's proposal for a smaller water district. But last week he said it did not seem feasible because the cost would be more than $10,000 per home and his proposed smaller district would still include many residents who do not want public water.

“If we have trouble asking them to pay $8,872, we certainly can't ask them to pay $10,000,” Mr. Fowler, a former member of Concerned Citizens, said last week as opponents erupted.

Mr. Fowler was unanimously reappointed to the water board this week by the township trustees. He was originally appointed in February to complete a term that expired June 16.

“He seemed to be getting more done really than has been done in quite some time,” trustee Richard Stout said of Mr. Fowler. Trustees selected him from at least four applicants, including water line proponent, Mr. Kazmierczak.

Trustees and opponents are investigating whether they can change how the water board operates, preferring to have water board members elected at the polls and assessments that go to a vote of residents, Trustee Stout said.

“Those board members need to be accountable to the people,” he said. “I don't feel good about that as a township trustee.”



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