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Torn Between Two Desires

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.
The Truth Contributor

Every intersection in the road of life is an opportunity to make a decision.

-  Duke Ellington


Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

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. 

Perryman: Councilman, what is your take on the proposed TAWA agreement?

Riley:  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? 

Perryman: 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 major action?

Riley: 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 are.

Perryman:  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?

Riley:  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?

Perryman: 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 arrangement?

Riley:  Okay.  So it means that thatís the only leverage they have. Thatís what they bring to the table.

Perryman: Iím saying how do we pay for $500 million of mandated upgrades?  

Riley: The water rates are going to go up. 

Perryman: 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 alternatives. 

Riley:  Okay, and Iím in agreement with that. 

Perryman: How do we do it?

Riley:  How?  The taxpayers pay it. 

Perryman: Man, our rates will go up so highÖ

Riley: 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?

Perryman: 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 unsanitary conditions?

Riley: 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 

Perryman: Is Toledo prepared should they leave?

Riley: Yes, we would be. Itís our house.

Perryman: Whatís the plan? Whatís the strategy?

Riley: 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 they leave.

Perryman: 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 governed?

Riley: Well whoís putting in 50 percent?

Perryman: According to the data that Iíve seen, the suburbs pay approximately 50 percent of the water revenues, collectively.

Riley:  Iím not sure, and thatís a question weíve asked, what percentage of TAWA will Toledoís population represent?

Perryman: 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?

Riley:  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.

Perryman: Who are they? 

Riley:  Public utilities, the administration, Rothstein, no one.  No one has provided that, even though weíve asked for it.

Perryman: Wow.

Riley:  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 in place? 

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? 

Perryman: 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 forecast.

Riley:  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 the highway.

Perryman:  Where the black folks at?

Riley:  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.

Perryman: My primary concern has always workforce diversity and to make sure that it is satisfactorily addressed.

Riley: 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.

Perryman: Thanks Councilman Riley.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org



Copyright © 2018 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/16/18 14:12:10 -0700.



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