Declaring emergencyWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Years before his death, my father had a sign in his office. It said, “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” It’s a saying he used often and is one that comes to mind from time to time.
Listening to the audio of the Nov. 16 Toledo City Council agenda review was one of those times.
The words, “and declaring an emergency” are often placed in legislation before Council. While Council does not always grant the request by saying “SEP” (S = Suspension of the rules, E = Emergency, P = Passage), large dollar amounts of funding requests have been given SEP.
This means instead of being given first reading, the item goes from being read once at agenda review and is typically voted on by Council the next week.
What was troubling about the Nov. 16 agenda review was that most of the money being allocated came from the very accounts that were stated as being so depleted that rates needed to be raised for water, sanitary sewer and storm water utilities to replenish them.
Justifications were presented by Director of Public Utilities Tom Crothers and others for this spending. It is hard to believe that since it was known, as an example, about the “worn, inoperable and, in some cases, dangerous equipment” as cited in legislation seeking about $2 million for new vehicles for the Division of Sewer and Drainage Services, this could not have been done before, instead of SEP.
There will be “real” emergencies that come up or legislation that does not require extensive due diligence for members of Council, such as land banking sales to residents. The overuse of SEP for large funding requests is something that should be questioned by us and by Council.
The same could be said about the rates for water, sanitary sewer and storm water. While the blame is being placed on the previous administration, the Bell administration has been in office for almost a year. Eventually, “It’s Carty’s fault” is going to wear thin as an excuse.
Also of concern was a statement made during discussion of the increase being sought for water, sanitary sewer and storm water rates.
Crothers said, “I am sorry to say, frankly, that the replacement funds, the improvement funds of the Department of Utilities (DPU), which in the past have had very robust balances, which have allowed us to make maintenance and major improvements when catastrophic failures, like the sanitary sewer failure on Front Street four or five years ago, that was a $3 million bill. Fortunately, at that time DPU had adequate funds in the sanitary sewer replacement fund to deal with that … I’m sorry to say that today, I cannot make that statement. If we were faced with a catastrophic sewer failure like that, we would have to move money among the funds of DPU on a loan basis to take care of such a catastrophic failure.”
David Leffler, public utilities commissioner, upon being questioned by Councilman D. Michael Collins about the city’s catastrophic insurance from FM Global covering some of the cost of the Front Street failure, said, “Yes, we did recover a portion of those funds, I can’t tell you exactly how much, it was I believe about a third or a little more.”
Collins said “If my memory serves me correctly, it was over a million,” and went on to provide details that Leffler agreed with.
When Collins questioned why we did not have enough insurance coverage to pay for the failure, Leffler said, “They [FM Global] paid for the actual failed section, but while we were down there doing repairs, we increased the scope of the project, to enhance the other edges rather than waiting for those to fail, so they would not cover the total costs. Plus there was a delay in filing the claim so, for those two reasons, we didn’t recover the total cost.”
The city does need money in these funds to pay upfront costs. Giving the impression that something cost $2 million more and not mentioning that there was insurance coverage that reimbursed most of the cost related to the failure, creates speculation as to what would have been said had Collins not raised the issue.
There are hard choices that need to be made, but giving accurate information and reducing the use of “and declaring an emergency” helps citizens be informed and can ensure Council members have enough time and information to make decisions.
Toledo Free Press contributor Lisa Renee Ward operates the political blog GlassCityJungle.com.