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Toledo, area communities consider chamber's offer on water issue

Organization proposed finding, paying for facilitator to bring consensus to water authority discussion

Leaders from Toledo and the eight communities that purchase its water will consider an offer by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce to find and pay for a facilitator to help bring consensus to the long-debated push to form a regional water authority.

Representatives from Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Fulton County, Lucas County, Monroe County, Whitehouse, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District voted today to send four representatives from their regional water committee to meet with a chamber representative to further discuss its proposal.

The committee for months has been debating how to equalize water rates and give each community a fair say in how the utility, owned by the city of Toledo, is managed.

Today’s vote by Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments members comes on the heels of a proposal by chamber officials to recruit and pay for consultant Eric Rothstein to move the committee toward an agreement on how to establish a regional water district under state law. Mr. Rothstein advised the 2016 formation of the Great Lakes Water Authority in Detroit.

RELATED ARTICLE: Metro Toledo water district debate slated for Thursday

The offer would mean the TMACOG committee would not have to use ratepayer funds to pay for a consultant, but Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken voiced concerns that chamber officials will want more control over the decision-making process than he’s comfortable with.

“I’m a little nervous. Just telling it like it is, you guys are not a third-party neutral body. You’re a chamber for a reason, to advance your members’ goals,” Mr. Gerken said. “For me it’s very important that the elected bodies that represent the rate-paying communities select the facilitator.”

Chamber President Wendy Gramza countered that she is advocating for a public-private partnership and that the chamber’s offer is just that: a proposal on the table for the elected officials to consider.

Maumee Mayor Richard Carr pushed the committee to accept the chamber’s offer. He said no elected official would give up any decision-making power by simply agreeing to use a third-party mediator. 

“I would make a motion that we sit down with the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, work out the parameters to make sure that there’s not any concern by committee members that they’re not trying to exert more control than what we are comfortable with,” Mr. Carr said. “And if we can do that we accept their offer and we proceed.”

Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough, who chairs the TMACOG committee, along with Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, Mr. Gerken, and Monroe County Drain Commissioner David Thompson will meet April 13 with a chamber representative to discuss their preferred candidate and nine others submitted by the committee.

If all parties can agree on a facilitator, the chamber will foot the bill. If not, the committee will split the cost by each municipality’s water consumption percentage.

The full TMACOG regional water committee must approve the small group’s recommendation.

Their next meeting is set for April 27.

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

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