TOLEDO, Ohio — After years of discussion, language was approved Friday to create a regional water commission for Toledo and its suburbs. The mayors and commissioners approved language that will provide a 40-year uniform contract for water supply that now will go their individual councils for approval.
"We have taken a major step toward achieving something that has eluded northwest Ohio for 50 years," said Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz.
"Forget the past the future is regional cooperation this is really a big deal towards that," said Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken.
The members of the Regional Water Commission will be:
- Northwest Water and Sewer District
- Lucas County
- Fulton County
- Monroe County (on behalf of the South County Water System)
Under the pact, Toledo still controls the water plant and distribution to the contracting jurisdictions. Customers in Lucas County would pay a retail rate for treatment and distribution of the water, plus billing and maintenance costs. The other jurisdictions will pay a wholesale rate that covers costs of getting water to a "master meter." The jurisdictions then are responsible for setting their own surcharges to cover costs of getting the water from master meters to their residents.
If all nine communities approved the contract a Regional Water Commission will be formed with two Toledo reps. and one from every other contracted community. That commission would set the water rates based off a cost of service methodology. Yet Toledo City Council has the authority to veto that decision with a three-fourths majority vote.
Some say theses were changes that help bring action.
"We're going to see uniformed rates generally speaking and we're going to see the price based on what it actually costs to provide the water that is something that has not happened ever and I think it's a real step towards building the trust," said Mayor Kapszukiewicz.
"By getting into the numbers, by making sure we had fair terms I feel we very well are able to protect our residents and I think all the other communities feel the same way. " Richard Carr, mayor of Maumee.
"Securing the above jurisdictions as Toledo water customers under long-term contracts spreads the fixed and operational costs of the water plant, main distribution lines and related systems among a larger customer base, helping to keep water costs affordable for all customers," according to an emergency ordinance that would authorize Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz to enter into the agreement. "It also allows Toledo to operate retail programs including senior and low-income discounts, lead-line replacement, reduction of the mandatory minimum charge, and implementation of monthly billing."
"That was a big sticking point a lot of these artificial minimums those will go away and I think the billing monthly people really want rather than the billing quarterly. You'll be able to see your rate, understand your rate know how your money is going to be spent and keep your water clean and safe," explained Gerken.
The ordinance was being sought as an emergency in part because "it is immediately necessary to allow the contracting jurisdictions to move forward with their approval ... as soon as practicable to allow for new water rates to take effect in January 2020," the ordinance language stated.
A memo to Toledo City Council members discussed the goal of the regional agreement.
"The goal was to maintain the Toledo water system’s customer base in order to ensure high-quality drinking water and the best possible rates for Toledo and our region. We believe this contract meets those objectives, while also keeping ownership and ultimate authority of the utility with the City."
More than a year ago, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz noted the need for a regional system.
"We have suburban partners and suburban customers who will leave our system, they will cease to get water from Toledo and they will get it elsewhere unless we can create a regional system where we do this together," Kapszukiewicz said in January 2018.
According to the "Uniform Water Purchase and Supply Agreement" released on Friday afternoon, the Regional Water Commission will be composed of Toledo's director in charge of public utilities and a second Toledo official with responsibilities of the water treatment facilities. The commission also will have a public utilities representative from each of the contracting jurisdictions. If the jurisdiction does not have person in charge of public utilities, that jurisdiction is to designate a non-elected officer to serve on the Regional Water Commission.
The Regional Water Commission will review each annual Capital Improvement Budget for the Toledo Water System and may submit amendments, as outlined under Chapter 15 of the Toledo City Charter, which was affirmed by voters on Nov. 6, 2018.
Specific rates were not discussed in the preliminary contract, but the method of introducing wholesale rate changes was included in the language. According to the contract, when a rate adjustment is recommended by the Regional Water Commission, it then is to be taken to the Toledo Clerk of Council, who will incorporate it into an ordinance before Toledo City Council. Unless at least three-fourths of the members of Toledo council vote to reject the ordinance within 45 days, the ordinance with the rate adjustment will pass.
The contract also notes that Toledo is obligated to adjust rates from time to time to generate revenues "projected to be sufficient to operate, maintain, repair and replace" components of the Toledo Water System and to pay for costs of capital for improvements to the water system.
While there is hope for Regional Water Commission, it's not a done deal yet. Toledo City Council has to approve the contract first and then the additional eight communities will vote.
"We're not taking it back to our communities this time until the City of Toledo council approves it," said Mayor Carr
"I am very confident in saying that Toledo City Council is poised to approve this contract at it's next meeting," Mayor Kapszukiewicz said.
Toledo City Council will then have to vote a second time to approve the rate structure once they know who is in and out of the regional water deal.
Jerry Greiner, president of The Northwestern Water and Sewer District, expressed satisfaction with the deal.
"The Northwestern Water and Sewer District is pleased with most aspects of the Toledo agreement, but we continue to explore water options. This agreement will now go to Toledo City Council for approval. If they pass it, our board of Directors will take this and other options into consideration. The District plans on hosting a public meeting regarding water options Thursday, September 5".