Former Toledo mayor Carty Finkbeiner speaks during a news conference regarding proposed selling or leasing of the Toledo city water system into a regional water system at Bowsher High School.
A group of Toledoans led by former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner wants the city to have more governing power of a regional water authority, should it choose to join one.
Mr. Finkbeiner and other community leaders on Thursday held a news conference announcing their new group, Protect Our Water. They outlined the issues they see with the current agreement between Toledo and the eight communities that buy its water that paves the way to form the Toledo Area Water Authority.
“The Protect Our Water coalition is not opposed to a regional water model, but we oppose the current one that the mayor and the suburbs signed a few weeks back,” said Steven Kowalik, regional director for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. “This is a bad deal for the citizens of Toledo.”
Under the latest proposal — signed in January by leaders from Toledo, Lucas County, Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Whitehouse, Fulton County, Monroe County, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District — Toledo would have two voting members on TAWA’s seven-member board. Protect Our Water leaders want to see Toledo have more sway.
“The partners said early on that they want a meaningful voice in the governance of a regional water system. Instead the MOU [memorandum of understanding] that was signed gives control to the suburbs, asking the city of Toledo to submit to a hostile takeover,” Mr. Kowalik said.
The agreement also says TAWA could either buy or lease the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant from Toledo, something Mr. Finkbeiner said he would support, but only if the suburbs offer a fair price. He argued it was Toledoans, not suburban residents, who paid for the construction and upkeep of the city’s water treatment plant, and that should factor into the cost.
Steven Kowalik of Protect Our Water speaks against the Toledo Area Water Authority as presently structured.
“Toledoans have put in excess of a billion dollars into our water distribution system,” he said. “I have a simple question for the suburbs: Do you wish to buy our system? Then be prepared to plunk down a billion dollars. Not a penny less.”
Old West End resident David Neuendorff said his biggest issue with the proposed sale or lease of the plant is that all participating TAWA members, according to the current agreement, would be on the hook for those payments. That includes Toledo, which presently owns the system.
“It’s like selling a car and then being on the hook every year for putting new tires on that car for somebody who doesn’t own it anymore,” Mr. Neuendorff said.
Mike Beazley, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz’s senior policy adviser, said the agreement signed in January provides a framework for how to establish the new water authority, but nothing is set in stone until a petition is filed with Lucas County Common Pleas Court to officially establish the new political subdivision.
“This is a work in progress and the administration and the neighboring communities want to continue to work together to resolve issues and come to the best solution,” he said.
He added that the value of the city’s water treatment plant and other infrastructure still is being assessed.
Protect Our Water met just one day after Mayor Kapszukiewicz announced that Toledo citizens will have the final say on a regional water authority, should city council approve a resolution to join one. The issue likely will be on the November ballot.
The group spoke in favor of the referendum but said they want to know more about how creating a regional authority would benefit Toledo residents.
“If it’s going to put extra leverage and pressure on the lower income people of the city of Toledo, then what we don’t want is a reverse Robin Hood type of arrangement in the regionalization plan,” Farm Labor Organizing Committee President Baldemar Velasquez said.
Former Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and former city council member Lindsay Webb represented Toledo at the negotiating table for months leading up to the January agreement with the suburban customers. They signed off on the governance structure, but Ms. Hicks-Hudson was adamant that the water treatment plant not be sold.
Mr. Finkbeiner endorsed Ms. Hicks-Hudson in her race for re-election against Mayor Kapszukiewicz.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz and city council members intended to hold their own public informational meeting Thursday evening to hear questions and concerns about the regional water plan, but they canceled the event because of rain and snow.
It has not yet been rescheduled, but there will be five other community meetings on the issue throughout March.
The next meeting is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 8 at the East Toledo Family Center, 1020 Varland Ave.
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