Negotiation between Toledo and suburban customers on forming a regional water partnership has, at times, seemed like blowing up a balloon with a hole in it: a lot of hot air goes into filling it, then the balloon deflates back to its original state.
There has been very little progress, and that has been frustrating .
Maumee Mayor Richard Carr summed it up nicely at the March 8 meeting of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments’ regional water planning committee: “I don’t know how much longer we can continue to do this, where we come to a meeting and then we go backward, we come to a meeting and then we go backward.”
The one item that all participants agreed to was a proposal from Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson to hire a neutral mediator to help the sides agree to the structure of a regional water district.
The move could be construed as Ms. Hicks-Hudson punting, but, in truth, a mediator could kick-start the negotiations — if all parties keep an open mind and sincerely listen to the recommendations of the mediator.
Ms. Hicks-Hudson proposed a block water rate, plus a reduction in surcharges, if the regional customers pick up the remaining $185 million in debt on the $500 million in upgrades being done to the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.
The towns want an ownership stake.
At least Ms. Hicks-Hudson is willing to keep talking and offered something, but the proposal was a lousy starting point and was mostly met with derision. The suburban mayors, including Craig Stough of Sylvania and Mike Olmstead of Perrysburg, contend their communities have already been paying for upgrades through hefty surcharges. Lowering the surcharges but requiring customers to assume the remaining debt seems like a nonstarter.
There is every reason to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism about a deal eventually being struck. But third-party intervention offers a fresh start. It is time to bring down the voices, lower the rhetoric, and listen.
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