There has been, for many months, a long parade of pictures laid before Toledo residents of failed water pipes, broken mains, leaking tanks and water intakes. For the past few months the city council has been swallowing hard on prospects of raising water rates that they claim must go even higher if the town is to have reliable water service.
The city council received a preliminary report Wednesday night from Public Works Director Adam Denlinger that outlines water system improvements that Toledo and Seal Rock customers must pay in order to restore that reliability because, right now, Denlinger says it could fail at any time. Nearly a half-century of low to no water rate increases meant little or no maintenance was done on the system for all those years. In effect, they were living off the investment their grandparents had made for the system that today is now decayed and falling apart. The repair bill: $19 million, $7 million of it charged to Seal Rock customers.
Denlinger and City Manager Michelle Amberg have been working with a bond broker that has developed a water system improvement bond sale program and helped set new water rates to pay for it. Revenue bonds to pay for Phase 1 and 2 would require a water rate increase from the current $32.24/mo. to $58.67/mo. If the city council decides to do the entire water system at once, it would require a rate increase to $67.06/mo.
Acknowledging the sorry state of Toledo’s water system, City Councilor Mark Camara lamented, “I see no way around these costs. So there’s no way around the rate increases.” Mayor Monica Lyons said “I know this is going to hurt people. But we just have to do it. My water bill is going to go from $100 a month to over $200 a month.” Lyons and others have often said the town simply kicked the maintenance “can” down the road for too many years, and so now, in the midst of a terrible recession, they have to face a huge repair bill.
Councilors said they will hold a public hearing on all this at their next city council meeting September 7th. Councilors appear headed into that meeting to make the case for system improvements, hear complaints on the cost, say they’re sorry, but raise the rates none-the-less because reliably safe water is mandated by law. It’s been said many times by city officials that it’s time to “pay the piper” for years of neglect that must be made up in a short amount of time, despite the bad economy.