By Kevin Kelley
Any Westlake resident worried about the city of Cleveland’s proposal to add $291 per quarter to their water bills should know this: Your mayor is not going to allow the fee increase to be imposed without a fight.
Speaking Tuesday night, the day after officials with the Cleveland Division of Water asked that city’s council to add substantial fees to Westlake residents’ water bills, Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough said all options are on the table to fight the proposal.
“I will take every means possible [to fight it], including asking for a restraint of trade [lawsuit], getting the Congress involved and also trying to get the [state] attorney general involved,” Clough said. “This is not right to punish the citizens of Westlake just because they want us to only buy water from them.”
The Cleveland Water proposal would impose additional charges of $291 quarterly to Westlake residents’ water bills to recover fees Cleveland officials say are associated with a proposal by Westlake to switch water suppliers from Cleveland to Avon Lake Municipal Utilities. Westlake has been studying the proposal for several years.
Cleveland officials have said Westlake will be liable for costs of $19 million created by a Westlake separation from the Cleveland systems, as well as repayment of $39.8 million for Cleveland’s investment in the water line infrastructure within Westlake. Cleveland officials have said it would be unfair to saddle costs associated with Westlake’s departure from the water system to customers in other communities.
A proposed ordinance allowing Cleveland to bill Westlake residents directly for these costs was introduced to Cleveland City Council Monday. However, the matter has not been discussed by any council committee yet, said Jim Kopniske, the communications director for Cleveland City Council. Under the proposal, billing of Westlake residents would begin in January.
Clough has long maintained there is no legal or contractual basis for Cleveland’s monetary claims.
The Westlake mayor said he was taken by surprise by Cleveland’s proposal to bill Westlake residents directly for these alleged costs.
“I think the city of Cleveland is trying to bully the city of Westlake,” the mayor said. “I think they’re trying to use scare tactics.” He added that Cleveland officials should sit down and negotiate the matter.
Clough also said Cleveland officials have misinterpreted terms of Westlake’s contract with the Division of Water. Westlake filed a motion in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court last year seeking a ruling on what the contract demands. No court ruling has been issued.
“I’m very disappointed with the city of Cleveland in the way in which they’ve gone about this,” Clough told West Life. “They knew we went to court to interpret the contract. They’re not even waiting for a judge’s interpretation. They’re trying to push their interpretation on everybody, and that’s not appropriate.”
Clough has asked Cleveland Water to present a proposal to sell Westlake water on a bulk basis. “We would like to be able to buy from both cities,” Clough said, referring to Cleveland and Avon Lake. Westlake officials have long said purchasing water from Avon Lake will most likely be cheaper than from Cleveland.
Clough said he would not rule out purchasing water in bulk from Cleveland alone. But the decision to purchase in bulk from Cleveland would be based on price, the mayor said. Westlake has asked for bulk water proposals from both Avon Lake Municipal Utilities and Cleveland Water, Clough noted.
Instead, Cleveland has pushed an agreement it is seeking with all the other communities it serves in which ownership of water distribution lines smaller than 20 inches in diameter, currently owned by each suburb, is transferred to Cleveland’s Division of Water. The agreement would also consist of an economic agreement in which suburbs and Cleveland agree to limit the pursuit of businesses currently in the others boundaries.
Clough said Westlake has no interest in signing such an agreement. The city has invested a considerable amount of money in Westlake’s water infrastructure, the mayor said. In addition, Westlake will do a better job the Cleveland with water line maintenance and replacement if it operates its own water department, Clough said.