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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Toledo City Council members say they'll vote on water-rate increase at April 30 meeting

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Department of Public Utilities commissioner, plant operations, David Leffler, left;  David Welch, DPU director, and Don Moline, DPU commissioner, field operations, watch Thursday during a presentation about the needs of the water department. Department of Public Utilities commissioner, plant operations, David Leffler, left; David Welch, DPU director, and Don Moline, DPU commissioner, field operations, watch Thursday during a presentation about the needs of the water department.
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Toledo City Council members said today that they will take a final vote at a council meeting April 30 on water rate increases being proposed for the next five years.

The rate increases for about 500,000 customers, would begin Jan. 1, 2014, and continue through 2018. The work would create 683 construction jobs for each of those five years, Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said.

The Bell administration has proposed annual rate increases of more than 13 percent for four years and 4.5 percent in 2018 to help pay for long-overdue fixes to the city’s Collins Park water-treatment plant, as well as a massive distribution network that serves Toledo and several neighboring communities in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

Each community served by Toledo would be charged the same percentage increase, Dave Welch, Toledo public utilities director, said.

The city, in its attempt to avoid litigation over federal Clean Water Act violations, has identified more than $264 million in repairs to start phasing in immediately.

A senior Ohio Environmental Protection Agency official who attended the hearing characterized those repairs as a “triage” that will only help keep an already-decrepit system from failing.

“We would consider this triage,” Beth Messer, assistant chief of the Ohio EPA’s drinking water program, said. “Our authority doesn’t really come into play until there is a risk to public health and that’s where you are.”

The city faces litigation over numerous violations until it gets caught up on major repairs designed to keep the public’s water supply from being compromised.

“The situation here is pretty obvious. From the standpoint of the administration, we would like to have you move this legislation forward as soon as possible,” Mayor Mike Bell told council.

The city plans to use money generated by the higher rates as leverage to sell bonds while interest rates are at or near historic lows.

Some residents who attended the meeting called for a performance audit of the water department.

An hour before the hearing, Ms. Hicks-Hudson joined Councilman Lindsay Webb at a news conference in which three pieces of legislation were announced to aid consumers with a probable rate increase.

One item calls for a “ratepayer bill of rights.” Among other things, it would ensure water customers get the option of a deferred payment plan and at least 10 days notice in advance of any disconnection. Another proposal calls for tenants locked in disputes with their landlords to pay off water bills with rental money they might otherwise withhold and put into escrow. The other piece of legislation calls for the creation of an appeals board for water cases.

The Collins Park water-treatment plant has been operating continuously since 1941. 

More than half of the distribution system was built before 1930. 

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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