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Published: Thursday, 8/21/2014

Officials urge local labor on sewer project


Toledo City Council is likely to vote Tuesday on a 52 percent rate increase for city sewer customers, spread out in phases until 2020, to pay for a pollution-control campaign after hearing no objections to the proposal during a meeting Wednesday.

What it did hear during its committee-of-the whole session were several calls for the city to do whatever it can to promote the training and use of local labor, especially minorities, to build the remaining projects scheduled as part of the Toledo Waterways Initiative.

“It’s a great opportunity to engage the community, and put the community back to work,” David Fleetwood, business manager of Laborers’ Local 500, told council.

“Creating jobs for our local people” will help eliminate blight and crime,” agreed Bernard “Pete” Culp, a community activist and member of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board.

Ed Moore, the city’s public utilities director, said mounting efforts to include local work force development in remaining TWI projects would be a logical follow-up to enacting the rate increase.

Several councilmen were skeptical about the sincerity of such efforts, considering Toledo’s past inability to meet minority-participation goals in public works projects.

Councilman and former Mayor Jack Ford said except for workers in a union with a large black membership, he believes minority workers are not likely to benefit from construction projects associated with the Toledo Waterways Initiative.

“If the contracts are already organized, how can we assume they [general contractors] will open up their arms to local subcontractors?” Councilman Theresa M. Gabriel asked.

Julie Cousino, the construction program’s city manager, said a contract for the largest of the seven projects still to begin — a 36-million-gallon sewage retention basin under Joe E. Brown Park — is to be awarded next week. Specifications for the other six remain to be drafted.

Mayor D. Michael Collins said those projects and improvements to Toledo’s water treatment plant represent “windows of opportunity” to increase minorities’ ranks in the building trades. He said the effort has to start with training.

“You can’t snap your fingers and make a plumber,” he said. “You can’t snap your fingers and make an electrician.”

Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson said the sewer rate increases, which would boost the quarterly bill for a customer averaging 3,000 cubic feet of water per quarter from its current $150.05 to $160.70 next year and to $228.40 in 2020, will be on council’s agenda Tuesday.

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