Counties consider water authority

By David J. Coehrs -

Fulton and Lucas Counties have joined other Toledo water customers who may be interested in forming a regional water authority that would gain them more control and equal water rates.

Though still undecided about its involvement, Fulton County has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the City of Toledo, along with Lucas and Monroe counties, Sylvania, Maumee, Whitehouse, Perrysburg, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District. The municipalities have met for almost a year to iron out details of what would become the Toledo Area Water Authority.

According to the latest proposal, the new water authority would guarantee parity of water rates between the municipalities within a decade, upgrade service lines, and develop assistance for low-income customers. In Fulton County, the new water authority would affect the Swancreek Water District, Northeast Water System and North Star Bluescope Steel.

Seven trustees would be appointed to oversee the water authority, each at a yearly salary of $25,000. Each trustee would also receive a $15,000 bonus each of the first two years to reflect the effort necessary to establish the water system.

Fulton County Public Utilities Director Ziad Musallam was tapped by the county commissioners last July to be on the project’s development committee. He said a regional water authority would allow the county to become a partner and to have control over operations and rate settings, which have yet to be determined.

Presently, the county’s Toledo customers pay for water based on a declining block rate structure that is based on monthly usage. Following a 4.5 percent rate increase in January, the price for all entities but North Star Bluescope Steel is $4.49 per 1,000 gallons, which includes a 29 cent surcharge. The steel mill, which also received a 4.5 percent increase, pays $5.83 for the first 10,000 cubic feet of water, $5.67 for the next 150,000 cubic feet, and $4.45 after one million cubic feet.

Musallam said it hasn’t been determined yet how a regional water authority would affect those rates or if it would prove detrimental to the county’s Toledo customers. He said if the county does commit to becoming part owner of the Toledo water system it will “gain control over the operation and rate setting of a regional water system.”

The MOU was signed by Fulton County and the other parties on Jan. 31. If it proceeds, a regional water authority can be created within a month of court approval.

Past attempts to establish a water authority were stymied by former Toledo mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson’s insistence that the city retain ownership of the water system. Musallam said the MOU facilitator believes the city’s new administration will be more cooperative with the venture.

Lucas County Commissioner Carol Contrada said the current MOU is the closest the municipalities involved have found to common ground in the past 20 years.

“We’ve never gotten this far. Right now, all the contracted communities with the City of Toledo realize this has a powerful regional economic impact,” she said.

Contrada said concern over a water crisis has compelled the municipalities to seek other options.

“So that has brought everyone to the table with a renewed sense of purpose. There’s a feeling we can find a path,” she said. “I’m very confident that the principals understand exactly what’s going forward. I really have a lot of confidence in the leadership and the people who are making decisions.”

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.