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Published: Tuesday, 5/1/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Berkey officials slam proposed water bill plan

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Officials from the village of Berkey received little sympathy from their Toledo counterparts Monday as they lobbed complaints at councilmen over a plan that would dramatically raise their water bills.

Mayor Mike Bell's administration is seeking to recoup about two-thirds of an almost $3 million expenditure the city made several years ago to install water distribution lines and a water tower in the village in western Lucas County.

As part of the agreement with the city, Berkey was to assess its residents the cost of the installation but has not done so since the work was completed in 2010.

Toledo now wants to add a $167 quarterly charge to the water bills of 66 Berkey residents who use the water lines, amounting to $668 a year for the next 30 years. Berkey residents now pay an average of $55 a quarter for their water, Toledo officials said.

The remaining 35 residents who have not yet tapped into the water supply would have to pay almost $20,000 upfront to access the service.

But Berkey Mayor Barbara Huff, while acknowledging that her constituents had expected to pay back the city, argued the proposed assessment vastly exceeds what the village was initially led to believe it would pay before it signed the agreement in 2005.

City officials at that time informed village officials the work would amount to about $9,000 per parcel over 30 years, she said.

Ms. Huff also said the village never had been told it would have to pay for the water tower, a $507,000 expense. "We desperately need water, we owe the city, we're willing to pay the city," Ms. Huff said. "We just don't want to be bullied into paying charges that weren't considered."

Those arguments did not sit well with Toledo administration officials, who insisted the village had been well informed of the anticipated $20,000 charge per parcel and of the inclusion of the water tower.

Toledo Field Operations Commissioner Don Moline said the village was given the option not to proceed with the installation work based on its expense, but opted to continue.

The amount now sought by Toledo won't even cover the city's cost to install the lines and tower, and residents would not be charged interest, Mr. Moline indicated.

"This is fair. In fact, it is more than fair," Mr. Moline said. "Financially this is not a good deal for the citizens of Toledo, but we honor our commitments. We always honor our commitments."

Ms. Huff also claimed that village officials had been waiting for Toledo's law department to contact them and help with the assessment of Berkey residents. That never happened, she said.

Law Director Adam Loukx called that assertion "absurd" and said it was up to the village itself to do the work of assessing its constituents.

Council President Joe McNamara said the village's attorney should have given them advice.

"You've been getting this water for [several] years and never paid the city of Toledo a dime," he said, adding that it is "a matter of fairness" that they pay.

Finally, Ms. Huff, Berkey Councilman Jeffrey Noe, and former Councilman Michael Neenan, slammed the proposed $19,990 up-front charge for residents who want to tap into the city's water supply.

All the village's residents had understood they'd be able to pay for the water lines over 30 years at no interest, they insisted. Now the remaining villagers won't have that opportunity, they lamented.

"It makes it almost unfeasible for our people out there," Mr. Noe said.

Mr. Moline said city officials had decided that assessing newcomers the same way as current Berkey water customers would be too difficult, because Toledo City Council would have to pass an additional ordinance for each new resident who joined.

The legislation will move to council for a second reading. A final vote is slated for May 22.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.



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