Tuesday, Oct 16, 2018
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Questions on Toledo's regional water plan

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    City voters need answers before a November vote on a regional water plan.

    THE BLADE
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    City voters need answers before a November vote on a regional water plan.

    THE BLADE
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Executives with many of the Toledo region’s biggest employers have some questions about the regional-water commission proposal from Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz. And the Kapszukiewicz administration apparently does not have many answers.

CEOs from a dozen local companies, including ProMedica, The Andersons, and Libbey met with the mayor recently to ask about his plans for creating a regional water commission — an alternative plan to the Toledo Area Water Authority that evidently does not have enough support from Toledo City Council to become reality.

Instead, Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s commission plan would be made up of utility directors from each community that decides to buy Toledo’s water. The commission would recommend water rates for all customers and would weigh in on what capital improvements may be needed at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant and other infrastructure, which would remain owned by Toledo.

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Toledo and Lucas County would pay a retail rate with meter-reading and maintenance services included, and the suburbs would pay a uniform wholesale rate as meter-reading and other services will remain the responsibility of their respective municipalities.

The sticking point with this plan for potential suburban community customers is that Toledo City Council would retain veto power over the commission’s decisions and would still be able to set water rates by a simple majority if it chose to

The sticking point for many of the region’s business leaders — CEOs who had remained publicly silent on the regional water issue as it evolved over the last year or two — is a lack of transparency.

After meeting with the mayor, these leaders listed their questions publicly in a letter to the editor to The Blade. They want to know what the rate structure for a new water commission will be, which the administration says is a question that cannot be answered yet. That may be a reasonable answer as the rates cannot be calculated without data such as how many suburban communities will join.

But the CEOs also asked about plans for a second water intake in Lake Erie, other redundancy measures to assure water safety, and a program to help low-income water customers.

Those are questions that the Kapszukiewicz administration should offer answers to. In fact, those answers ought to have been part of the mayor’s campaign to get voter approval for the commission even before business leaders asked for them.

The city ought to be able to tell its voters and the region something about its plans for these elements of the regional water commission. Is the city still committed to creating a second lake intake to help prevent microcystin contamination like Toledo suffered in 2014? What is the potential timetable for replacing the city’s lead water lines? What are the plans for minimum billing and a program to to help low-income customers who cannot afford increasing water rates.

Those answers are not dependent on which communities join the commission, and city voters should be able to hear them before the November vote.

Critics may note that not every CEO in the region signed the letter and that those who did are mainly suburban residents, not Toledo citizens. The questions these men are asking, however, affect Toledo voters — particularly the low-income, inner-city residents who ought to be the prime concern for elected leaders in the city. They also signed the letter in their capacities as leaders of businesses that employ those city water customers, not to mention who will play major roles in the city’s continuing revitalization.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz noted that it was a rare occasion for region’s business leaders to collectively express concerns about an issue this way, saying it as has been “perhaps a generation” since anything like it has happened in Toledo.

The mayor is right to interpret this unusual public questioning as an indication of how important the regional water issue is to the Toledo area’s future, to economic development, to residents who pay water bills. And his administration should respond by offering better answers to the CEOs’ questions.

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