Water thieves convicted in city crackdownWritten by Casey Harper | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Two Toledo residents were recently convicted of water theft as part of a citywide crackdown.
“If you choose to steal water from the City of Toledo we’re gonna come after you and prosecute you,” said Director of Public Utilities Dave Welch.
Jai Dix pled no contest and was found guilty of water theft July 9 with a sentencing set for Aug. 7. Randolph Waldron was found guilty of water theft and tampering July 12 with a sentencing set for Aug. 8.
Welch said the stolen water cost between $5,000 and $8,000. These were the first two convictions of the crackdown.
Department of Public Utilities (DPU) officials decided six months ago to begin aggressively pursuing water theft. They have filed about 20 cases in court since then. The DPU began implementing stricter policies and hired former Toledo Police Detective Harold Mosley to investigate water theft.
When residents do not pay their water bill, the DPU sends a crew out to shut the water off. The theft occurs when residents turn the water back on using special tools or when they steal their neighbors’ water.
Welch said that before the crackdown, water crews would go out six or seven times but now they only go out two or three times before prosecuting.
Welch said turning off the water earlier has already saved at least $100,000 and possibly much more.
“What we’re doing is [more] aggressively going after folks sooner than we used to,” Welch said. “That way they don’t rack up a large water bill.”
The DPU has several water theft cases pending. The department receives tips daily about illegal water activity.
Welch said residents take extraordinary measures to steal water. He said they will use special “water keys” to turn their water back on.
“We’ll put a cement box over it and they’ll dig it back up,” Welch said. “Sometimes there’ll be a hose connected from one house to the house next door. They’ll kick in the door of a vacant house next door and turn on that water and run it to their house with a hose.”
According to Welch, water prices will increase 13.2 percent annually for four years starting in January. The fifth year the price will increase 4.5 percent. These revenue increasing measures come as a result of EPA requirements that the water plant make $314 million in improvements in the next five years.
“It’s an old plant dated back to 1941 and 1956 and we’re still working on some of that original equipment,” Welch said.
Welch said the stricter policies are for thieves not struggling citizens.
“Those people that find themselves in difficult economic times just need to call us,” he said. “We’ll work on a payment plan. We’re willing to work with people. They just need to let us know and not take the drastic step of stealing water.”