Whether to cede control of Toledo’s water supply to a
regional water authority is a challenging question. The
decision becomes even more burdensome when based upon not
entirely rational and hardcore assertions spoken with the
intensity of road rage. These appeals often drown out saner
counter proposals based on facts and common sense.
For me, making the decision to join or not
join the Toledo Area Water Authority (TAWA) comes down to
having the mental strength to separate indisputable facts
from the uproarious myths and fiction perpetuated by
proponents of the status quo.
The facts are:
Water rates have increased 43 percent over the
last four years under the status quo gang – 13 percent in
2015, followed by an additional 13 percent in 2016, 13
percent more in 2017 and another four percent in 2018. This
lack of rate stability hurts overall economic development
and has viciously battered our income-challenged and working
Forty percent of Toledoans are being “ripped off”
by Toledo’s water department via policies that require
citizens to pay for a minimum usage of 2,000 cubic square
feet of water, even though four in ten are likely to consume
a mere 1,000 -1,400 cubic square feet. The city’s purpose is
likely a backhanded plan to generate extra funds to help
manage water plant operations and to cover the $20 million
in uncollected debt on bad water accounts that people could
not afford to pay for their water.
The city currently has no water affordability bank
or program such as HEAP or PIP (percentage of income plan)
to help those who have difficulty paying their water bill to
make arrangements while keeping their water from being shut
off. The regional system, in contrast, and mostly paid for
by the suburbs, is designed to create such an affordability
bank to help “income-challenged” persons to keep their water
Currently, 75 percent of Toledo’s water lines are
lead and pose a public health hazard that could possibly,
one day, cause our city to become another Flint, Michigan.
Conversely, the TAWA agreement replaces all of the lead
service lines in the City of Toledo, the financing which, is
also provided by those who have few or no lead lines such as
Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Monclova, Monroe, Maumee and
The plain hard truth is that none of these
benefits take place without Toledo’s participation in the
TAWA or under the status quo. Based on a meeting held on
March 20, there seems to be a real possibility that all the
suburban communities could leave the Toledo agreement over
the next 10 years leaving Toledo to fund $185 million in
federally mandated upgrades to its plant. In this case,
water rates in Toledo are expected to triple or rise at
least 300 percent.
In addition, and only spoken about in hushed
tones, is the urgent need for Toledo to treat their own –
the citizens who live within its boundaries - better.
Particularly its low-income residents, who, in effect, are
subsidizing or paying for large commercial and industrial
customers who receive preferential low water rates for high
volume usage. Residential customers receive a surcharge, in
effect, for lower usage, and a higher rate for average
usage, while commercial customers receive a lower rate for
higher usage. This policy smacks with injustice and has
nothing to do with the suburbs.
Not only that, but the city requires one to
be a property owner to have the water bill placed in their
own name. Standard practice has been to put water accounts
in the landlord’s name. So theoretically, you can pay your
rent every month thinking that the water bill has been
getting paid and possibly come home to find a hangtag or
notice of water shut off because you assumed the landlord
was paying the bill.
A major myth has been that joint MOU is binding
and final. However, the truth is that this document is
merely an aspirational framework that is used to obtain an
interim order to “form” the TAWA. Once the order to
formulate the authority is obtained, then board members can
be appointed and a detailed plan of operation with input
from the community is required to be developed. This process
is likely to take approximately one year to complete and the
court is expected to monitor what is going on. This is also
a period that any of the participants, including Toledo, can
withdraw if they are not happy with the detailed plan of
operations or policies.
What shall we do?
We need to do more than talk and act tough.
We must instead become informed and mentally strong. And we
need to do it quickly if we are to obtain urgently needed
stable water rates needed to eliminate double digit rate
increases, create a water affordability account and help
replace lead service lines and the other unfair policies
preserved by the status quo.
We must also ensure that the right people are
appointed to the TAWA board, those who can secure all of the
things that are needful and fair and who can make certain
that these things will actually get accomplished or hold the
We can also talk with people like Gary A.
Brown, the City of Detroit’s representative on the Great
Lakes Water Authority, which is comprised of the City of
Detroit, the State of Michigan, and Wayne, Oakland, and
Macomb counties. Brown is a retired deputy chief of the
Detroit Police Department also currently serves as the
director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
Finally, once the MOU has been approved in
court, the process calls for community members to
participate in a court-monitored development of a detailed
plan of operation. Making sure that the right people from
the community, government and nonprofit world are available
to contribute what the utility needs in order to be
operationalized is paramount.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at