By Kevin Kelley
City officials have scheduled an informational meeting for residents regarding Westlake’s dispute with the city of Cleveland’s Division of Water for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9 at the Westlake Recreation Center, 28955 Hilliard Blvd.
The dispute came to a head this week after Cleveland officials announced that its water department would charge Westlake residents an additional $291 per quarter for costs associated with the suburb’s purported departure from the water system. The Cleveland Division of Water also mailed a letter to all Westlake water customers announcing the plans to impose the additional fees. Cleveland officials say a May 2, 2013 letter from Westlake was a notification that Westlake plans to terminate its relationship with the Cleveland Water system. The proposed quarterly fees are needed, Cleveland officials say, to recover its investments in the water lines in the suburb and to make additional infrastructure changes to ensure service continues to communities that border Westlake. Altogether, the charges total $58.5 million, Cleveland officials said.
Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough has called the Cleveland ordinance and letter to Westlake residents “bullying tactics.” The mayor has said there is no legal basis for Cleveland’s monetary claims.
Westlake has not indicated it will terminate its agreement with Cleveland Water, Clough said. For the past several years, the suburb has been studying the feasibility of setting up its own water department and obtaining water from Avon Lake Municipal Utilities.
Clough has said the suburb could provide better water service at better rates to its own residents than Cleveland. On Thursday, Clough told reporters of the history of service problems Westlake has experiences with Cleveland’s Division of Water, including its failure to fix fire hydrants.
Clough said his city has also requested a proposal from Cleveland for obtaining water in bulk and becoming a “master meter” community. Cleveland currently supplies five communities –Bedford, Chagrin Falls, Lakewood, Cleveland Heights and Geauga County – with water at bulk rates. Clough said Cleveland has failed to respond to his request.
In the summer of 202, Westlake filed a motion in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to obtain a declaratory judgment on what rights and obligations Westlake enjoys under its agreements with Cleveland’s Division of Water. That matter is currently before Judge Michael Astrab. A meeting at the court between the two parties has been scheduled for Monday morning, Clough said at Thursday’s Westlake City Council meeting.
At Thursday night’s council meeting, Council President mike Killeen said the suburb would not proceed with any switch of water suppliers without a ruling from the court. He also said Westlake would not switch if city officials could not stop the $291 quarterly fee from being imposed.
Clough told Westlake he would take whatever action was necessary, including legal action and involving the state attorney general and Congress, to block the additional fees.
Also at Thursday night’s Council meeting, members voted unanimously to increase the amount of money being paid to the suburb’s outside legal counsel to handle the dispute with Cleveland’s Division of Water. Westlake has already paid about $170,000 to the law firm of Stumphauzer, O’Toole, McLaughlin, McGlamery & Loughman Co., LPA, Clough told West Life. The approved ordinance allows a maximum of $330,000 to be paid to the law firm.