Regional Water Talks Continue

The Northwestern Water & Sewer District (The District) continues to participate in the Toledo Chamber of Commerce funded regional water discussions between The City of Toledo and the eight agencies that purchase water from the City by contract. These agencies include: Lucas County, Southern Monroe County Water, the City of Sylvania, The District, the City of Perrysburg, Fulton County, the City of Maumee and the Village of Whitehouse.

The biggest challenge of these discussions is to agree on priorities such as water quality, reasonable rates, ownership and board control. While trying to sort out these differences, it appears the concerns are more political than operational.

The difference in the water discussions now is facilitator Eric Rothstein, who comes to the area with experience in regional water concepts through his work in Detroit, Milwaukee and Orlando. His efforts keeping the discussions focused are crucial for the group.

While regional water talks continue, The District is waiting on the completion of a new study on water issues, which may offer water alternatives. We should be hearing more on both the study and regional water talks within the next few months.  We encourage you to stay informed as the results will impact your rates.

-Jerry Greiner, President, The District

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Regional Water Participation

What does that mean to you as a customer?

It should mean that a regional entity, most likely a government organization, owns and operates a water system (or sanitary sewer or storm sewer system) for non-profit while delivering quality service on a uniform, system-wide basis.

What does that mean to the City of Toledo?

They already are “regional” in that they meet the definition above. In their mind, for the last 50 plus years, they have operated the water system in that manner.

What does that mean to the outside “purchase communities?”

The 9 outside governmental agencies may not agree simply on the definition of “regional,” when it comes to the treatment of the water, its rate/cost, and the decision making.

For example, Toledo’s rates vary and their additional surcharges, income-tax sharing rules and other added requirements have pushed many to the edge on these requirements. They exceed the rule of fairness being reasonably priced and motivated to the buyers.

When does everyone (buyer &sellers) agree on its definition and how it will operate?

Let’s hope meetings and discussions continue between the buyers and sellers of our water so that they can define what it is and how it will operate. Otherwise, some irreplaceable decisions could occur that could be costly for all end users.

Advantages of a Regional Water & Sewer District

Ever since the Northwestern Water & Sewer District was formed in 1994, I’ve been asked many times to explain the advantages of a regional water and sewer district.

This is easily done and the answers are relative depending on the circumstances of the comparison.advant

For example, I recently spoke at a regional conference on governmental cooperation and I am scheduled to talk in southern Ohio next month to hundreds of water and sewer providers on the same topic. The answer for both groups is the same…….regional cooperation (done right) eliminates overlap and redundancy and saves users money!

If it doesn’t do that, regional ANYTHING won’t work for the users!

Basically, when I am asked what exactly are the advantages of a regional district, the first thing I do is ask a question in return: “Does your area already have a regional school, a regional jail, a regional fire department, a regional ambulance district, a regional waste collection, a regional police department, a regional 911 call center, etc?”

If the answer is yes to any of these, I say: “You have already bought-into the concept of regionalism in an effort to provide quality service at an economical price to the public!”

A regional water and sewer provider is doing the same thing!

A regional approach in providing any of these public services requires mutual respect among the parties, cooperation among the regional governments, and a consensus among the elected officials that they must do better in using public dollars (re: taxes) for the better good of the region.

do more with lessIn our current economy, in this age of 2015, all governments should have learned how to do more with less. If they haven’t learned that yet, they either: 1) Have too many tax dollars or high rates, or 2) Have a “me-first” or “I know what is best” approach working with their neighbors.

Most local governments do not have the budgets, or the economic development or the growth they once had 10-15 years ago in order to “go it alone” in many of these situations.

Look around, there are too many public buildings and too many “chiefs” in small regional areas to any longer provide economical service for the long term. They cannot sustain the rates and cash flow to work in that manner anymore!

That is why a regional or district approach must be considered in any of these situations.

Here are the advantages of a district:

-minimal administration of supervisors

-fewer “support departments” such as payroll, billing, HR, engineering, etc.

-better utilization of resources such as computers, staff, vehicles, specialty equipment

-timely, uniform response of staff and equipment

-backup resources

-less disruption due to employee and board turnover

-long-term goals, plans, procedures, and policies are in place

-one-stop economic development support

-better quality environmental impact

-And the final one: cost savings!

If there is no cost savings to ALL users, a regional approach will not work.

We can all point to exceptions in government where larger-better funded, better operated sole governments provide excellent service. And in a regional setup, areas within the district may be over or under served from year-to-year depending on the demands of the users.

However, in the long-run, all users are served more uniformly and at a higher service level than most smaller, independent governments can provide. There are simply too many positive ongoing efforts going on within a district to slow them down in which they can reach maximum users.

planFor example, a district is not burdened by the loss of key employees nor the loss of one piece of key specialty equipment. A backup exists and a plan is in place and the resources are distributed to adjust to such short-term setback.

Since I have been here (for almost 22 years) and involved in our operation, and watching government around the state, every time we have lost our lead engineer or our primary finance director or our licensed water/sewer operator, the district has moved on with a replacement, who is well-trained and suited to take the job and the organization on to the next higher level.

The district barely slowed to adjust and the customer was minimally affected. It works at all levels!

Years ago, I would walk from department to department here and knew by the mail and communication within the employees and consultants and customers the probable 1-2 projects that were underway within the district. At that time, we were smaller and less diverse in our projects and expertise.

Now, I walk between the departments and realize that we have 75-100 projects, issues, and services that we are providing at all levels of need within our region!

I’m amazed at the quality of staff and expertise that we have mustered here! It’s a powerful enterprise when that can be harnessed and focused and the employees see the benefit of their hard work!

That is ALL GOOD for the customers and the region!

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