Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018
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Suburban leaders 'frustrated' with regional water talks

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    Maumee Mayor Rich Carr

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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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.

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Leaders involved in talks to establish the Toledo Area Water Authority are returning to the bargaining table Monday, but some suburban players are growing frustrated with recent developments.

Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz proposed a plan May 24 calling for a regional water commission to set rates and create a capital improvement plan. The commission would be comprised of representatives from Toledo and the municipalities buying its water, but Toledo City Council would have veto power over rates.

The proposal was a pivot from January’s memorandum of understanding between Toledo, Lucas County, Perrysburg, Maumee, Sylvania, Whitehouse, Fulton County, Monroe County, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District. Suburban mayors shot down the idea the next day and countered with their own proposal.

Maumee Mayor Richard Carr said a TAWA agreement must include an independent board, and control should not be an issue.

“I think the problem Toledo has is they have people — and I don’t include the mayor in this — but they have people who are not interested in regional cooperation,” Mayor Carr said. “All they’re concerned with is regional governance. They want control. If they maintain that, we will not have regional water with Toledo as a participant.”

WATCH: Maumee Mayor Rich Carr speaks about the regional water situation with Toledo and the suburbs

Toledo officials want the final say on rates because of at least $500 million worth of EPA-mandated repairs to the city’s water system. Mayor Carr said that number has climbed to $750 million and includes the construction of an above-ground storage tank and an additional intake.

Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough also takes issue with Toledo’s council seeking control.

“I am disappointed that our two years of work toward a [Ohio Revised Code] 6119 regional water authority have, in effect, been vetoed by the city of Toledo,” he said. “And I have had residents tell me on the street that they would be willing to pay more for water not to be under the political control of Toledo.”

Maumee, Perrysburg, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District are conducting a study to examine the costs of using water from Bowling Green. Mayor Carr says Toledo is making a “big mistake” if they’re not taking the suburbs seriously when they discuss TAWA alternatives.

Sylvania and Monroe County are exploring the possibility of linking up with Detroit’s regional system.

Mayor Carr said if he asked his council today to make a decision on Maumee’s water provider, he believes they would sign an agreement with Bowling Green. He asked his administration why Maumee should stay involved with TAWA discussions, and reasons to sign a contract elsewhere.

“One person said if Toledo cannot afford to pay for all those mandated repairs, Toledo could have a very serious economic problem,” Mayor Carr said. “We’re a first-string suburb and it could spill over into Maumee. That was it.

“Knowing what Toledo has in mandated repairs, the problems with their lines, how they have billed ... it’s like they’re playing poker with the worst hand possible, showing us their cards, and still bluffing. The only reason we’re even staying in this is we believe it’s best for the entire region.”

RELATED: Outside Toledo, fewer pay for unused water

Mayor Carr said the way Toledo handled non-revenue water — water that is stolen, leaked, or otherwise unpaid for — for years is another factor making it tough to convince his constituents to stick with Toledo.

The mayor said Toledo passed on the cost of their non-revenue water to the entities purchasing its water by figuring it into their customers’ bills. The TAWA mediator told Mayor Carr that Toledo has about $15 million annually in unpaid-for water.

Mayor Carr brought this to the committee’s attention and was told Toledo will eat the cost in the future, saving all suburban customers about $1 on every bill going forward. Maumee customers paid for $733,000 worth of Toledo’s non-revenue water in 2017.

“That’s why the term ‘grand theft water’ is ridiculous,” Mayor Carr said. “If you’re going to talk about grand theft water, that’s where the theft is.”

Mayor Stough believes some points in the city’s latest proposal are negotiable, and he’s open to discussion. However, he will continue to pursue his own alternatives.

“We will study their proposal and propose some changes that will perhaps make it more acceptable,” Mayor Stough said. “We had been working diligently for the good of the region, but Toledo’s need to retain control apparently means they are only interested in Toledo’s well-being, not the region’s.”

Contact Jay Skebba at jskebba@theblade.com, 419-376-9414, or on Twitter @JaySkebba.

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