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Published: Thursday, 2/7/2013

City probe shows councilmen delinquent in water bills

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

One day after the Bell administration backpedaled on a plan to charge a $200 across-the-board deposit for new water accounts, several Toledo councilmen were reminded by the mayor's office that they had unpaid water bills, were late paying their bills, or had received multiple shut-off warnings.

As of Monday, Councilman Tyrone Riley owed the city the most for water – $5,379 in current open balances on 19 different properties – and has received 48 “final notices prior to disconnect,” according to the investigation ordered by the Bell administration. He has also been charged late fees 137 times for all those properties. Renters live in some of those homes.

Mr. Riley owed $724 for his own home on Searles Road. He has been sent shut off notices twice for that home.

The review included all 12 councilmen, Mayor Mike Bell; deputy mayors Steve Herwat, Shirley Green, and Paul Syring; Public Utilities Director Dave Welch, and Commissioner of Utilities Administration Tom Crothers.

City Council President Joe McNamara, who does not owe the city for unpaid water but was late paying his bill in March, 2010 and May, 2012, said creating the list was purely political.

“Mike Bell uses the water department like Richard Nixon used the IRS,” Mr. McNamara said. “Richard Nixon had an enemy list and he used the IRS to go after people on that enemy list.”

Mr. McNamara was shown the information Tuesday evening by Mr. Herwat but not given a copy of the report. The document was obtained by The Blade Thursday through a public records request.

Jen Sorgenfrei, Mr. Bell's spokesman, said the review of water bill histories was relevant because of the public hearing Monday on the $200 deposit.

“Obviously there is a concern given some of the comments that came up at the hearing [Monday] that there could be a direct interest by some individuals who may have to pay this deposit for one or more properties following a shut off,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said.

During the hearing Monday, Mr. Riley said the deposit had been “on the books since 1953” but the city recently “decided to enforce it without notifying the public.”

Mr. Riley said some of his renters have not paid him for the water the use.

“If I pay the water bill, that would relieve the tenant of his obligation,” he said. “The leverage is if the renter does not pay then he is subject to the water being shut off.”

Six councilman and Ms. Green have received the city's final notice before the water gets turned off.


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