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Cleveland moving forward with charges on Westlake water customers

Clough, Jackson to meet Nov. 8

By Kevin Kelley
Westlake

Mayor Dennis Clough has formally retracted his May 2 letter to Cleveland Director of Public Utilities Paul Bender, which had been interpreted by Cleveland officials as notice by the suburb to terminate its water service relationship with the central city.

In a one-sentence letter, dated Oct. 29 and addressed to Bender, Clough wrote “Since the letter of May 2, 2013, continues to be misinterpreted and misconstrued, I do hereby retract the letter in its entirety and look forward to continued discussions concerning any future contract with the city of Cleveland.”

Nevertheless, the public utilities committee of Cleveland City Council unanimously approved a proposed ordinance Wednesday under which Westlake residential customers would be billed $291 per quarter for costs associated with a possible departure of the suburb from the Cleveland-run water system.

Darnell Brown, the city of Cleveland’s Chief Operating Officer, told committee members that despite Clough’s retraction of the May 2 letter, the billing was justified based on other actions the government of Westlake has taken indicative of a coming departure form the water system.

Cleveland officials have said Westlake would be responsible for $58.8 million in costs associated with a departure from the water system.

Clough and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson are scheduled to meet on the dispute Nov. 8.

For several years, Westlake officials have investigated switching to Avon Lake Municipal Utilities as its water supplier. Other options Westlake is considering include purchasing water from Cleveland in bulk, as a “master meter” customer like Lakewood is, or buying water from both Cleveland and Avon Lake Municipal Utilities.

Officials from both communities met Oct. 24 to discuss specific details of Westlake’s proposals to become a master meter customer of Cleveland’s Division of Water. Westlake City Engineer Bob Kelly, who attended the meeting, said it went well and that engineering concerns are not an obstacle to the suburb’s proposal.

However, in an Oct. 29 letter to Clough, Bender said aspects of Westlake’s master meter proposal are either unacceptable to Cleveland or need further study. Bender’s letter indicated that Cleveland intends to go forward with its plan to bill Westlake customers for costs associated with a potential departure from the system.

Asked by Cleveland City Councilman Michael Polensik why Cleveland doesn’t bill the city of Westlake directly instead of the suburb’s residents, city attorney Rick Horvath replied that Cleveland has no legal authority to bill the city government, only the Division of Water’s customers.

Cleveland officials and council members who spoke during Wednesday’s committee meeting and an earlier one Oct. 16 said they will not allow costs associated with a Westlake departure from the water system be imposed on residents of Cleveland or the system’s other customers across more than 60 communities.

The proposal to bill Westlake customers for charges associated with a departure by the suburb must still be approved by Cleveland City Council’s finance and legislative committees, something that will take place in the coming weeks, said Cleveland Councilman Terrell Pruitt, who chairs the public utilities committee. The measure is expected to by passed by both committees and the full council.

Asked by West Life if the dispute between Cleveland and Westlake will by decided in court, Pruitt replied, “Probably.”

Westlake has already filed a motion in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court for a declaratory judgment on differing interpretations of the current water service agreement. That case is currently before Judge Michael Astrab.

Clough has said Westlake will not take any action concerning its water supplier if the result is increased costs to its residents. A proposed ordinance that would extend the current water service agreement with Cleveland was introduced at Westlake City Council’s Oct. 17 meeting, meaning that option is on the table. However, Westlake City Council President Mike Killeen stressed it is only one of several options before the suburb.

A legal motion by Westlake seeking an injunction against the increased billing is likely once the ordinance is passed by the full council unless some other resolution has been reached by then.

Previous West Life article:

Engineering talks planned, but both sides of water wars appear entrenched

 

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