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Published: Tuesday, 3/25/2003

Overhaul could boost sewer rates up to 45%

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo residents could see a 45-percent increase in their sanitary sewer bills over the next three and a half years as the city begins raising money to pay for a $400-million sewer system upgrade.

Also, city officials announced yesterday that they plan to take three holes from the 12-hole Bayview Retirees Golf Course to build a 60-million gallon basin required by the sewer project.

The two developments are related because the decision to use city-owned golf course land instead of buying a privately owned marina business for the basin will save Toledo as much as $10 million in acquisition and construction costs, which would have translated into even higher sewer rates, officials said.

Mayor Jack Ford said he supports the rate increase plan. He noted that Toledo residents voted last July to approve the $400 million expenditure over 15 years.

Under the proposed rates, sewer bills would rise 9.75 percent this year and in each of the next three years.

The typical Toledo residential quarterly bill would rise from $47.19 at present to $51.79 in the second half of 2003, $56.84 next year, $62.39 in 2005, and $68.47 in 2006.

The same percentage increases would be applied to commercial and industrial customers, as well as those outside Toledo. Storm sewer and water rates are not affected.

City council is expected to hold public hearings. A vote would likely take place in May, in time to implement the new rates in July.

The Toledo Waterways Initiative, the city's new name for the massive wastewater treatment upgrade, is required under a consent decree the city signed in federal court in December with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The federal government sued Toledo in 1991, claiming the city was dumping millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Maumee River.

City officials have blamed the problem on the combined storm and sanitary sewer system that serves about 20 percent of the city. During heavy storms, the system is overwhelmed and untreated sewage flows into Swan Creek and the Ottawa and Maumee rivers, and backs up into homes.

The solutions include replacement of three pumping stations, new backup power for the wastewater treatment plant, and creation of a 60-million-gallon holding basin to serve the wastewater treatment plan.

Robert Williams, director of the Toledo Waterways Initiative, said the rate increases will allow the city to begin issuing bonds to raise money for the first phases of engineering and construction.

“The project is front-end loaded. All the engineering and a lot of the construction occur in the first five to eight years,” Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Williams said using land from the golf course on Summit Street next to the wastewater treatment plant would be cheaper than an earlier plan to take over the Harrison Marina, also next door to the treatment plant. Construction would not occur on the golf course until 2005.

The city owns the golf course property and leases it to a group that runs an all-volunteer 12-hole golf course for senior citizens.

Joseph Bodnar, one of the volunteer co-managers, said the city has promised to help acquire property to replace holes 10, 11, and 12, and will provide some of the excavated soil to build up greens and tees. The lease on the course comes up for renewal Oct. 31.

“As long as we've got nine holes, that's better than losing the whole golf course,” Mr. Bodnar said. “The city's going to help us out and do some things to help us create some new holes.” He acknowledged that Bayview Retirees, Inc., which runs the course, doesn't have much negotiating leverage.

Robert Woods, the owner of Harrison Marina, said he's lost customers based on the expectation that the marina's days were numbered, and will have difficulty rebuilding his customer base. “I'm in kind of a bad shape right now,” Mr. Woods said.

The city has been warning for several years that sewer rates would likely double over the next 15 years, with the biggest increases at the beginning.

But Councilman Peter Gerken, who chairs council's environment and utilities committee, said doubling the rates may not be necessary. Now that the litigation is over, it may be possible to negotiate more economical solutions with the EPA to keep raw sewage out of the city's waterways.

“We're trying to scale back from [doubling the rates]. We're trying to form a working relationship with EPA after 11 years of an adversarial relationship,” Mr. Gerken said.



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