For the last 4 years, I have directly called on 3 different City Managers to begin a discussion with Cleveland Water on a framework for regionalizing the Cleveland Heights water system. I believed then, as is now an established fact, the Cleveland Heights water system is unsustainable and the status quo is not an option any longer. Unfortunately, the majority of Council, at those times in the past, did not agree with my call to initiate those discussions with Cleveland Water. With that said, hindsight is 20/20. Now, with a mounting debt from the massive loss of water in the pipes (water that never reaches residents or businesses) the Council must make a decision on the future of the City’s water lines. It is clear that the City will be unable to maintain control of the water system as the cost is too great and has reached the point that the debt incurred from the water system is greater than the City’s reserves. Of course, this is something that can not wait another year.
I have continued and will continue to speak out in favor of regionalizing our water system with Cleveland Water. As I have repeated over the last 4 years;
1. Almost every other municipality in Cuyahoga County is directly serviced by Cleveland Water. The ONLY municipalities not currently directly served by Cleveland Water are Bedford, Chagrin Falls, Lakewood and of course Cleveland Heights.
2. Cleveland Heights is a “master meter City” (as are Bedford, Chargin Falls and Lakewood). This means that water is sent from Cleveland to Cleveland Heights for a set price (which is only slightly lower than what residence throughout Cuyahoga County pay for their water). Cleveland Heights then charges a premium above that price that the residents pay whenever they turn on their faucets. This “mark up” makes water usage more expensive in a “master meter” community such as Cleveland Heights than our neighbors that are directly served by Cleveland Water. I have always considered this an unnecessary and uninviting expense of living and doing business in Cleveland Heights.
3. Regionalizing our water department will eventually lead to a leveling off of our residential and commercial water rates. Once Cleveland Water completes the necessary $10 million necessary investment into the system and has been reimbursed through higher rates, then a freeze period of the rates would ensue. This rate freeze would be in effect over a period of time until the Cleveland Water rate eventually matches the Cleveland Heights rate. I am under the impression that this would take 4-7 years. The end result would be a lower rate for our residents and businesses from the “mark ups” our City currently charges or whatever “mark up” a for-profit company would charge if they were the biller.
4. The City has been diligent in its efforts to keep spending in line with realistic budgetary forecasts. Difficult decisions have been made, hiring has been frozen in many departments, the workforce has been reduced via attrition and City employees and staff are doing more with much less. The one overarching concern that has literally “blown a hole” in the otherwise responsible and successful budget, is the Water Department’s average $1.2 - $2 million of yearly losses.
This is a complicated issue, as every story has two sides. The City Administration and Council as a whole has made decisions based on the best information and guidance from professionals that we had at that time. Unfortunately, important information, such as the degree of disrepair the city’s underground water pipes are currently in, was unknown and the recommendations of staff, were at times, woefully off due to that same lack of knowledge as to the true causes of the Water systems insolvency.
For me however, I campaigned on supporting a Regional approach to maintain quality of City services while being more efficient. Over the last 4 years of my time on Council, I have been a proponent of regionalizing our Water Department and Sewer System, Police & Fire Dispatch, CHPD SWAT Team, joining the E.D.G.E. communities and joining the Shaker & University Heights Fire Department merger study, amongst others. I believe that due to shrinking City budgets and a smaller population than 50 years ago, the status quo can not and should not be continued. It is becoming more burdensome every year. For me, regionalism is neither scary nor bold change. To me, regionalism is simply, the responsible way to ensure a better and brighter future for Cleveland Heights.