North Olmsted City Council rejected a proposal May 21 to turn its 107 miles of water lines over to the Cleveland Water Department. Now Mayor Kevin Kennedy wants Cleveland water officials to grade those pipes to see how much money the suburb might have saved.
“It’s a no-brainer to me,” Kennedy said after the meeting. “Cleveland water was willing to pay for replacing our water lines when it’s needed. Council saying no means our taxpayers have to pay for replacing lines.”
Council voted 6-1 to reject Kennedy’s proposal to join Cleveland’s Suburban Water Main Renewal Program, which would have required turning ownership of the suburb’s water pipes over to Cleveland. But in return, the Cleveland water department would have been responsible for paying for any capital improvements and replacement of those water lines.
Council members questioned the need for North Olmsted to join the program, saying North Olmsted’s lines are not as old as many of the 40 Cleveland suburbs that have joined it. Others expressed concern about the 20-year length of the contract, noting the first opt-out opportunity comes 15 years into the agreement.
“Now is not the time to do this,” said Mary Ellen Hemann, chairwoman of council’s Environmental Control Committee, which had recommended voting against the agreement “Maybe in a few years, we can revisit it, but I don’t believe our lines are in the position of needing to be replaced quickly like some other cities.”
Councilman Chris Glassburn said later he would like to see the outcome of a lawsuit between the city of Westlake and the Cleveland Division of Water resolved first. Westlake is attempting to leave Cleveland and get its water from the Avon Lake Regional Water system.
Glassburn had concerns about how North Olmsted might get water if Westlake is successful, noting that many of the Cleveland water lines serving North Olmsted go through Westlake. That might require additional costs for North Olmsted if the lines have to be rerouted, he said. And if Westlake is successful, Avon Lake could be a possible source of water for North Olmsted as well, Glassburn said.
Hemann and other council members said they are reluctant to give up control of city assets like the water lines.
Kennedy said the water lines are not assets to North Olmsted, but liabilities, saying their repair and replacement will be expensive. Cleveland is better suited to handle those costs and would continue to provide reliable service to North Olmsted even if it controlled the lines, he said. Cleveland water department workers currently do repairs on the lines and would continue to do so if North Olmsted turned over ownership of the lines to Cleveland, Kennedy said.
Councilman Paul Schumann, who cast the lone yes vote for the proposal, said he sees the line replacement as a good deal for North Olmsted.
Westshore neighbors Fairview Park and Rocky River have both benefited from Cleveland water replacing their water lines, Kennedy said. Rocky River officials said Cleveland water has done $10 million in water line projects in Rocky River since 2007.
Kennedy said he expects to get the grades this summer.
Councilman Kevin Kearney, who voted against joining, said afterward he doesn’t have a problem with Kennedy seeking the grades anyway. Kennedy said the proposal is in council’s hands now and that it would be up to council to bring the proposal back.
“If he wants to get them, that’s fine,” Kearney said of the grades. I’ll look at them. But there’s no guarantees we’d get any money even if we joined now. I don’t want to get into that type of long-term commitment at this time.”
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