Grappling with the decision whether to go forward with the
creation of the proposed regional Toledo Area Water
Authority (TAWA) presents a quandary for Toledo City
Councilman Tyrone Riley. The decision on moving a valuable
long-term municipal asset from wholly-owned to a shared
governance arrangement is expected to provide many benefits
to, not only Toledo, but also eight other regional partners
that would be a part of the new collaborative.
Yet Riley, although eagerly looking forward to the future,
is not quite ready to let go of the past so easily. The
councilman was willing to share his thoughts with me in a
very frank discussion concerning his state of perplexity
regarding proposed changes to governance of Toledoís water.
Councilman, what is your take on the proposed TAWA
Basically, Iím in favor of regional water. However, I want
to make sure that the interests of Toledoís taxpayers are
protected. We donít want to just give this water away and
not receive anything in return.
The whole purpose of
regional water, from the way theyíre presenting it, seems
just to equalize the rates between the suburbs and the city
and everybodyís saying okay. Iím saying in accomplishing
that goal how do you get there and how is Toledo better off
as a result?
According to the Memorandum of Understanding, the City of
Toledo will have two positions and Lucas County receives one
on a seven-member board that takes five votes to approve
I donít know if we can always look at that as 2+1, I think
we can only look at it as 2. Right now, the city and county
are on great terms, but that may not always be the case
depending upon whoís the mayor and who the commissioners
The City of Waterville has already left the Toledo system
for what they believe is a better long-term deal. Monroe
County, Sylvania, Maumee, Perrysburg and Whitehouse are also
said to be exploring other water supply options. Do you
believe that these suburbs will not leave Toledo when their
contracts expire in the next few years?
Well, I think you have to take them individually, and Iím
not saying that they wonít, but the thing is how are we
benefitting as a result of the fact that the water our
asset? What do the suburban communities bring to the table?
Well, let me answer that with a question. How will Toledo
account for the lost revenue if the suburbs leave and still
be able to perform the required upgrades and maintenance to
Collins Park? So, it appears that the suburbs do have some
leverage as a collective party to our ďassetĒ and if they
leave, will take one of the legs from under the current
Okay. So it means that thatís the only leverage they have.
Thatís what they bring to the table.
Iím saying how do we pay for $500 million of mandated
The water rates are going to go up.
Plus, our bond rating is going to deteriorate and the
interest rates on any bonds we attempt to sell may make that
financing prohibitive or extremely expensive. Thatís the
point. We own the water, but the suburbs also have
Okay, and Iím in agreement with that.
How do we do it?
How? The taxpayers pay it.
Man, our rates will go up so highÖ
Youíre not asking me about how much the rates will be,
youíre asking me how it will get financed, how it will get
paid? So your next question is, if the taxpayers pay for
it, then are the water rates are going to increase?
Theyíre going to increase tremendously, which leads me to
the next question, what are we going to do to assist
low-income residents in paying their water bills when their
rates may increase to something like 300 percent. How do we
assist the people who are not able to pay their bills so
that we donít have another Detroit where everybodyís getting
their water cut off and people without water are living in
The City of Detroit was desperate for money. They needed
money in order to help them get out of bankruptcy. Weíre
not in bankruptcy, so at this point in time Toledo is on
very sound financial footing. Our ratings are pretty decent,
so weíre not in the same status as Detroit. Iím just saying
that we need to make sure that weíre getting what weíre
entitled to receive. I think we need to ask more questions
before we just agree to it.
Why are we just agreeing
to it? Right now, the suburbs are threatening to leave.
Okay, if they leave then why arenít we trying to put
together a package to say Ďif you leave then this is our
alternative Ė weíre going to do this, this and thatí as
opposed to being afraid that theyíre going to leave? Why
donít we prepare for in case they leave so that weíre saying
Ďlisten, this is our asset, this is my house, youíre just
renting? If you decide you want to move and buy your own
house then thatís what you do, but if you want to stay here
this is what you have to pay. Now, it makes it easier for me
if you stay and pay, but if you donít stay and pay Iím
prepared to foot this bill.í
Is Toledo prepared should they leave?
Yes, we would be. Itís our house.
Whatís the plan? Whatís the strategy?
Thatís what we need to come up with, I agree. We need to put
our heads together and come up with an internal plan in case
And the next thing thatís so important to me, we have talked
about Detroit, but letís talk about Flint. Personally, I
donít see anything more important than protecting the health
of our citizens. Weíve got to replace these lead service
lines to protect the health of Toledo residents. If we go it
alone, how do we fund lead service line replacement? How do
we perform the required upgrades so that we donít have the
algae bloom problems? How do we help low income residents
pay their water bills? Those three things are, to me,
hanging over our heads and have me concerned. And thatís
not to mention that if an entity contributes nearly 50
percent of the revenue to the water system why shouldnít
they have a voice in how the system is governed? Why
shouldnít the suburbs have a voice in how the system is
Well whoís putting in 50 percent?
According to the data that Iíve seen, the suburbs pay
approximately 50 percent of the water revenues,
Iím not sure, and thatís a question weíve asked, what
percentage of TAWA will Toledoís population represent?
Shouldnít Toledo be able to look in their own records to
determine the impact or distribution of the revenues that
are coming in for this water?
Well listen, weíve asked that question and I agree with you.
We have asked that question and weíre waiting on the
response. They havenít supplied that information to us.
Who are they?
Public utilities, the administration, Rothstein, no one.
No one has provided that, even though weíve asked for it.
And those are some of the questions that we need answers to
and are important in terms of how we look at this. Iím in
favor of regional water, itís just a matter of how do we get
there? Some of the questions that youíre asking, Iím saying
why donít we have answers to these questions? Why do we
have to go into this thing kind of like blindly and saying
okay. And thatís why Iím with you when you said listen,
well whatís the plan? Okay, shouldnít we already have that
For instance, we donít
even know the value of our asset. Whatís the value of the
water treatment plant we have right now? Then, Number 2,
what is TAWA offering us for it? If itís worth $5 million,
do you want me to just give it to you or what are you
offering? Nobodyís talking about that. All weíre talking
about is how strong their hand is. Well, Iíve got a pretty
strong hand, too. If itís a negotiated type of situation,
what are we bringing to the table to even make you want to
partner with us?
Well, it is a high stakes poker game, metaphorically
speaking. But at the same time the relationship also fits
well with a business analogy because it does speak to
transactional dealings with the purpose of mutual benefit.
The suburbs are our customers and therefore make an
independent choice whether to buy from you or from somebody
else. So we have to look at what the effect would be if our
customers go someplace else and our revenues drop. Are we
going to have to lay people off? Are we going to have to go
into some long-term debt arrangement to make these mandatory
capital improvements? Are there contingent legal
liabilities where we could be sued for damages caused by
these old lead pipe waterlines? Are we going to have
another Flint crisis? So you have to look at all that while
youíre assessing your risks and preparing your financial
The other factor too is where do we fit in? We know what
the suburbs look like and who they represent. How do we make
TAWA represent us? How does our black community benefit from
it? Right now, say for instance, we seem to have a decent
share of minority representation of African Americans, male
and female. But whatís going to happen? Will TAWA lay them
off? You lay them off and when I go inside this authority
and they take me on tour and we start asking a question that
we always ask when we see the workforce while traveling on
Where the black folks at?
Talk to me. Talk to me. How do we look out for minority
employees? For instance, look how the refuse department was
transformed by the privatization of the trash. We privatized
that and as a result how do African Americans get a job in
the city today? Itís extremely difficult now.
My primary concern has always workforce diversity and to
make sure that it is satisfactorily addressed.
I definitely support TAWA. I just think that we need to make
sure that weíre ready for this. The question is Can you
wrap your arms around it and say okay I support this and I
know where we going? I just donít want to get where weíre
going and only then start asking questions.
Thanks Councilman Riley.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at