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Suburban mayors counter Kapszukiewicz regional water proposal

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    Filter bed at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in Toledo on May 4.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Water tower at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in Toledo on May 4.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz speaks to the editorial board about his and his staff's new regional water plan at The Blade on May 24.

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    Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, left, and Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough shake hands while signing a memorandum of understanding to form the Toledo Area Water Authority Wednesday, January 31 at the Toledo Chamber of Commerce office.

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Water tower at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in Toledo on May 4.

The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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Suburban leaders rejected Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz’s alternate plan for a regional water system, countering with a plan of their own that would allow Toledo to keep its Collins Park Water Treatment Plant and transfer its water system debt to a new authority.

Mayor Kapszukiewicz on Thursday proposed forming a regional water commission with representatives from Toledo and the municipalities that buy its water, rather than moving forward with a Toledo Area Water Authority that leaders agreed to in January. The commission he envisioned would set water rates and develop a capital improvement plan for the water system, but city council would ultimately have veto power over the commission’s recommendations.

Under his plan Toledo would remain solely responsible for the water system’s debt that includes at least $500 million in EPA-mandated improvements, which is why city officials want to reserve the right to have the final say on water rates.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz on Friday presented his proposal to leaders from Lucas County, Perrysburg, Maumee, Sylvania, Whitehouse, Fulton County, Monroe County, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District, as well as a water system consultant hired by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough said giving Toledo veto power negates the point of a regional water system, and other suburban leaders voted to table the Kapszukiewicz plan.

“If one entity controls the majority, then it’s business as usual,” Mr. Stough said.

He instead proposed revising the TAWA agreement to allow Toledo to transfer its bond obligations to the new authority without giving up ownership of its plant. He called for Toledo and its suburbs to together form the TAWA as the parties discussed months ago, and TAWA to then sign a 40-year lease agreement with Toledo to have access to the water treatment and distribution system.

The lease agreement would include a stipulation that TAWA assume all of the system’s debt, and the 40-year lease would continue year-to-year so long as there still is debt to be paid off.

“We think that was a major step forward to help attempt to get Toledo to be more comfortable and the council of the city of Toledo,” Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said. “At this point, TAWA is alive. We thank the mayor for his proposal. It didn’t seem to work for everybody, but it opened up avenues of discussion.”

TAWA would have an advisory board with representation from each community. The board would set uniform water rates, manage the infrastructure, and explore options for a second water intake, treatment plant, or connection with another existing system.

“We’ve made some real progress today,” Mr. Stough said. “For the whole region to have water that’s not politicized, that’s delivered safely, efficiently, and redundant with separate sources is what we need to promote our region to bring industry and jobs here.”

Toledo City Councilman Nick Komives, who chairs the water quality and sustainability committee, called the Friday meeting a success.

“Every single person around the table said they want Toledo to be part of this,” he said. “Toledo certainly agrees the best option for moving forward is all of us together. We’re coming to that point.”

He said he believes other city council members will support Mr. Stough’s amended TAWA proposal, although representation on the advisory board still has to be worked out. Officials plan to meet again June 11 to hash out those details.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz expressed caution about whether the revised TAWA plan would be welcome news to city council or Toledoans.

“To some extent, politics is the art of possible,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “I worry that the [TAWA] might be the best way to do this, but it just might not be possible. So I think that our alternative is the right mix of a good plan that achieves real regional cooperation, but it’s also something we can pull off.” 

Before any regional water plan can take effect, city council will weigh in and likely send the decision to the ballot.

“I think the reality is we’re pretty close to having council send this to the voters, and I think that’s the best decision,” Mr. Komives said. “This decision is one of the largest decisions that Toledo is going to have to make in a very long time, and I think that is certainly the best option to put it before voters and allow them to have their say.”

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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