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Webb urges changes in appeals over city water bills

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Toledo Councilman Lindsay Webb is pushing for changes to the city’s water department that would give ratepayers with problems more options.

“The intent was to improve customer service and confidence in the system,” Ms. Webb said after a council hearing on her ideas.

She wants to create an independent appeals board comprised of three outside members and two city employees; allow renters to pay landlord water bill arrearages to avoid a water shutoff, and also to codify a “customer’s bill of rights.”

“When I initially proposed these, it was before we increased water rates,” Ms. Webb said.

The appeals process now puts water customers before a board of three city employees. That is not an impartial process, she said.

Bell administration officials suggested that an attorney hired by the city handle customer appeals.

City Law Director Adam Loukx wrote an opinion regarding Ms. Webb’s proposal to allow renters to pay past due amounts for their landlords. He said that document is not open to inspection by the public under Ohio’s open records because it is confidential legal communication.

Dave Welch, Toledo public utilities director, said renters can go to Toledo Municipal Court if a landlord is not paying the water bills.

“People can have their rent put into escrow and the court pays [the city] with the money for the water bill,” Mr. Welch said.

Earlier this year, Councilman Adam Martinez suggested allowing renters to open their own accounts to satisfy calls from property owners, who for years have complained about getting stuck with water bills from tenants.

A majority of Toledo City Council last month approved water-rate increases, which will, by the end of five years, cost the average household an additional $125 a year compared to what is paid today.

The increases are to pay for more than $300 million in repairs and upgrades mandated by the Ohio EPA for the city’s drinking-water plant in East Toledo. Councilman Tyrone Riley cast the only no vote.

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