A feasibility study for a regional water utility in Lucas County and as many as four neighboring counties was green-lighted Friday when the Lucas County commissioners approved their $50,000 share of its cost.
The purpose of the study is to identify possibilities for Toledo and its neighbors to cooperate on water treatment and distribution to eliminate facilities duplication and cost, county and city officials said after the commissioners’ vote.
“This is something that we’ve talked about and walked away from, and talked about and walked away from, since 1996,” Pete Gerken, the commissioners’ president, said before noting that at that time, both he and fellow commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak were on Toledo City Council.
The study is to be managed by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments.
City council approved its $50,000 contribution to the study’s $200,000 cost in August. The city and county funds match a $100,000 Local Government Improvement Fund grant from the Ohio Department of Development.
Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said that while prior city administrations “have not been interested in pursuing this,” Mayor Mike Bell began discussions with suburban leaders about the idea even before he was sworn in three years ago.
The study, Mr. Herwat said, will be “an exploratory effort to determine what would be necessary to set up a water district.”
Officials from Wood, Fulton, Ottawa, and Monroe counties have been invited to participate, he said.
Duplication of water infrastructure, including treatment facilities, water tanks, and distribution mains is “really a burden on the region, it makes the region less competitive,” said Warren Henry, the metropolitan council's vice president for transportation.
But while collaboration offers prospects for “considerable savings,” Mr. Henry said, regionalization efforts elsewhere have not been easy.
Mr. Gerken agreed that there “will be a hard decision at the end of this,” because establishing a regional water utility would likely result in rate increases for some area water users, while others’ rates would drop.
But more important to the Toledo area’s economic future, the county commissioners’ president said, is “good water, plenty of it, and stable, predictable rates.”
Fellow commissioner Carol Contrada said the metropolitan council is best suited to oversee the study because it "provides a neutral forum."
TMACOG staff have reviewed proposals from three potential consultants and are prepared to recommend one, Mr. Henry said.
The study “has to be done with full transparency” and involvement of all potential constituents, he said, acknowledging the credibility problem its recommendations will have if any interested party perceives bias.
Mr. Herwat said work on the study is expected to start early next year.
In other business, the county commissioners awarded a contract to The Blade to publish the county’s annual delinquent-tax list. Though higher, at $74.97 per column inch for the first publication and $53.30 per column inch for the second, than the only other bid, from the Toledo Free Press, the Lucas County Auditor’s Office recommended The Blade’s bid as best for the contract.
Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade. 419-724-6094.