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Published: Thursday, 8/14/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

Regional water plan backed

5 councilmen support paying $175,000 for study

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

A proposal to turn over Toledo’s water treatment and distribution system — by far the largest in the area — to a countywide water authority got a boost Wednesday from five Toledo councilmen who supported an ordinance to spend $175,000 to plan for the change.

Councilman Lindsay Webb advocated the move as likely to improve regional cooperation and economic development.

The study would spell out the steps needed to convert the Toledo-owned water system into a public board operated by Lucas County and the city under Section 6119 of the Ohio Revised Code. The $175,000 would come from a dedicated utility account that is separate from the general fund.

Lucas County put up its $175,000 last week.

“We have passed rate increases that will begin the improvements at Collins Park [water treatment plant] so we are in a strong position to negotiate our interests and to take care of some of the concerns raised by Toledo ratepayers and what we have invested in our system,” Ms. Webb said. She said developing a regional plan would likely take two or three years.

“Regional water will undoubtedly lead to greater regional cooperation and probably strong economic development throughout the region,” Ms. Webb said.

Ms. Webb chairs council’s utilities committee. She was joined by fellow Democrats Larry Sykes, Mike Craig, Steven Steel, and Paula Hicks-Hudson. Council has 12 members.

Toledo’s water system issued a do-not-drink order Aug. 2 because of unsafe water from toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. The order was lifted two days later.

Independent Councilman Sandy Spang, a member of the utilities committee, said that before she would support the plan, she first wanted to see the performance audit city council commissioned on the Department of Public Utilities that is due in the fall.

Lisa Ward, spokesman for Mayor D. Michael Collins, said residents would have to vote on changes to the system. She cited Section 79 of the City Charter, which says any measure “granting a general public utility franchise” must be approved by voters.

“At this point in time, the mayor is not supportive of allocating additional funding for an implementation plan. If Lucas County or other jurisdictions want to contribute beyond what has already been allocated, that is not in our area of control,” Ms. Ward said in a statement.

Ohio has about 130 regional water and sewer authorities. Some are in northwest Ohio, such as the Carroll Township Water Authority that serves about 2,000 residents in Ottawa County, and Northwestern Water and Sewer District, which buys water from five other systems to serve its approximately 18,000 customers in Wood County.

Jerry Greiner, president of Northwestern, said the regional water authority is more efficient and responsive and less prone to political influence. The nine-member governing board has three members each appointed by the Wood County commissioners, the 12 municipalities, and the 20 townships.

Carol Contrada, president of the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, said the cost of maintaining the water system may be too challenging for one jurisdiction.

“Also, there needs to be some redundancy to the system. As we saw, when the system goes down, there is no backup,” Mrs. Contrada said.

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.



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