The Hicks-Hudson administration's top lawyer temporarily pulled Toledo out of discussions on creating a regional water authority until after Election Day, but the move was reversed within hours of suburban leaders saying they’d forge ahead without the city, emails obtained by The Blade reveal.
Elected officials from Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Fulton County, Lucas County, Monroe County, Whitehouse, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District have been meeting for more than a year, considering the formation of a regional water district under state law — known as a District 6119.
City Law Director Adam Loukx on Monday told a regional water subcommittee and consultant that Toledo would not participate in a meeting set for Wednesday. Mr. Loukx wrote there are “substantial issues” that will be discussed by the city's bond counsel on Nov. 9 — two days after the upcoming election — including the necessity of bond defeasance and reissuance of debt.
“Along those lines, Toledo feels it is prudent to adjourn the next legal committee meeting until after the bond counsel meeting,” Mr. Loukx wrote.
Regional Water consultant Eric Rothstein, of the Galardi Rothstein Group, responded via email Tuesday. He said the other communities discussing a regional water authority could devise a plan to proceed if Toledo or any community would “elect not to participate in the regional authority.”
“Insofar as principles from all of the contract communities expressed a commitment to form a District 6119, irrespective of Toledo’s decision, additional substantive progress may be made at our upcoming meeting to prepare for this contingency,” Mr. Rothstein wrote to officials involved in the talks.
Mr. Rothstein also wrote: “I hope that Toledo’s collection and sharing of critical financial information, requested on October 22nd, will not be similarly stalled.”
Mr. Loukx responded hours later and said city officials would indeed attend the meeting. He said the city wants a lasting solution rather than “one that is slapped together hastily in meetings convened before relevant knowledge is shared,” and said a short delaying in holding a meeting seemed “a small sacrifice considering the importance of doing a monumental task right.”
“Nevertheless, in the interest of continued cooperation, we will attend your meeting at 1 [p.m.] tomorrow,” he wrote.
Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson said the city remains committed to forming a regional water authority.
“The city is always ready and willing to be at the table for this,” she said. “If it was not for me, we would not be as far along on this topic. I have been pushing for the financial aspect of it be discussed with the principles as well as the legal.”
Toledo Councilman Lindsay Webb, chairman of council's water quality, streets and infrastructure committee, said the city need to be involved at every step.
Toledo currently sells water to its suburban partners. In January, the parties agreed, in principle, to move ahead with a regional water system.
The agreement aims to have all customers paying the same bulk-water rate by 2026. It also aims to create a regional force that could help prevent a recurrence of the August, 2014, algae crisis, probably by building a second water intake for Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.
Suburban customers support forming a 6119 District. Under that scenario, an appointed board of trustees would be responsible for decision-making and Toledo’s dominant position would be diluted, if not lost.
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said the county has long supported a regional water authority.
"It would be hard for me to believe after a year’s time, dozens of meetings, [and] eight drafts of an MOU, that the city would not move forward,’’ Mr. Gerken said.
“Could the other communities still go forward [without Toledo]? Yes,’’ he added.
A study by Environmental Rate Consultants, Poggemeyer Design Group, and T. Parker and Co. indicated the average monthly water charge for Toledoans would rise from $22.19 to $66.33 by 2024 if the city no longer sells to its suburban clients.
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