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Communities favor regional water district

Suburbs may abandon Toledo

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    A room in the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in Toledo. Ownership of the facility could prove to be a sticking point in negotiations over forming a regional water authority.

    THE BLADE
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    Stough

    THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
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Toledo and its nine water customers continue to push ahead with a plan for regional water, but the question of how such a system would be governed looms.

Toledo officials don’t want to give up any part of their Collins Park Water Treatment Plant ownership, while the suburban customers say they must have a stake in the facility or they’ll take their business elsewhere.

“The rubbing point seems to be that the suburbs would continue to put in millions of dollars to improve and update Toledo’s plant and have nothing to show for it at the end,” said Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough, who chairs the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments regional water planning committee.

Mayor Stough, along with Perrysburg Mayor Mike Olmstead and Maumee Mayor Richard Carr, emphasized their communities are giving serious thought to either joining a new water system or building their own should the regional deal with Toledo not go through.

VIDEO: Blade Briefing — Sarah Elms on regional water district

“As a leader, I don’t think I could go to my residents and say we are going to put $25 million or $30 million into the plant and at the end we’ve got nothing to show for it,” Mayor Stough said. “Let me assure you that I am not bluffing. ... We need to find a way for this region to move forward with a unified water system that takes advantage of the wonderful asset that Toledo has and is investing in.”

All 10 committee representatives — from Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Fulton County, Lucas County, Monroe County, Whitehouse, Waterville, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District — voted Wednesday to look into forming a regional water district under state law that would be governed by an appointed board.

It’s an option the suburban customers have pushed for but one Toledo officials still are wary of, though Toledo representatives voted in favor of the move to keep discussions moving. All representatives acknowledged the meeting marked the most progress the entities have made in decades toward a regional water authority.

Toledo Chief of Staff Mark Sobczak would not guarantee the other nine customers any ownership of the water treatment plant but said he will ask Toledo city council members to help formulate a governance plan to discuss at next month’s meeting.

“At this juncture, the mayor [Paula Hicks-Hudson] has made it clear the city is not interested in selling an asset or giving up an asset. But that doesn’t mean at some juncture there wouldn’t be an agreement made to have some variation on that opinion,” Mr. Sobczak said. “I believe our mayor has said that all those ratepayers should have some voice in what’s going on, because at the end of the day that’s what put us all here.”

Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson was absent from the meeting because of a family issue, and her vacant seat did not go unnoticed.

“This is a historic decision. I understand personal things happen in people’s life, but she’s not here today to give her voice to your administration’s position, which she should be,” Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said. “I see a lot of other mayors here. That’s telling.”

Mr. Sobczak jumped to Mayor Hicks-Hudson’s defense and said she has made more progress toward a regional system than her predecessors. He added city staff has put in hours of work analyzing various rate scenarios.

Before the meeting adjourned Mayor Stough again emphasized Toledo will need to give up a piece of its ownership for the system to work.

“We don’t own the plant now, but we will own a plant in 30 years whether it’s part of yours or our own, and we need a proposal not to make the stupid move of balkanizing our water and splitting our region apart,” he said, pounding his fist.

“Fair enough,” Mr. Sobczak said.

The next regional water planning committee is set for 7:30 a.m. March 8 at 300 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.

Contact Sarah Elms at: selms@theblade.com or 419-724-6103 or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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