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Published: Thursday, 9/16/2010

Rossford's water deal criticized

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Councilman Joe McNamara wants Mayor Mike Bell to stop offering Rossford residents a lower rate than they paid last year for the Toledo water - a price he said was not authorized by City Council and could be illegal.

"Mayor Bell appears to have illegally discounted the rate Toledo sells water to Rossford," Mr. McNamara said.

The last water contract between Toledo and Rossford expired on May 27, 2008, when then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner ordered the rate to be charged the base price plus 125 percent.

Not long after taking office, Mr. Bell rolled back the rate to the base plus 40 percent, which was what the Wood County city had to pay under the previous contract.

The Toledo Municipal Code directs noncontractual water rates to be billed at least at the base rate plus a 125 percent surcharge.

"During extremely difficult economic times, Toledoans are watching their water bills steadily increase, while Mayor Bell is lowering the water rates for non-Toledoans," Mr. McNamara said.

Mayoral spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said the city is negotiating a new contract with Rossford.

"This is not a new practice that began with the Bell administration," Ms. Sorgenfrei said. "The past practice has been to maintain current contract rates while we discuss new rates with existing customers, so as a result we continue to maintain contract rates with Rossford as discussions continue."

She said the move is a "good-will gesture" also extended to other existing contract communities such as Monroe County.

Mr. McNamara made his request by letter to the mayor Wednesday and also asked the mayor to justify how a suggested regional water authority would benefit the city without including tax-sharing agreements, regional government, or regional services. The mayor is traveling in China with a contingent of Toledo businessmen in an attempt to lure investments to the area. He returns on Monday.

While campaigning last year, Mr. Bell called for establishing a regional water compact to advise Toledo on the price of water sold to neighboring communities.

Both the water and revenue-sharing contracts have expired, but Toledo continues to get 27 percent of income-tax revenue from Rossford's Crossroads of America district.

Steve Herwat, who is Mr. Bell's deputy mayor of operations, said in February the mayor decided to rescind the higher water rate surcharge on Rossford after finding out another customer with whom a contract has expired, the South County Water District in Michigan, was not paying an increased fee.



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