Avon Lake Councilman Larry Meiners said he will consider an effort next year to put an initiative on the ballot to bring under the jurisdiction of the mayor’s office.
Currently, per charter, the utilities office is independent of and operates with a Chief Utilities Executive and a board of directors.
“The person I’d like to see manage this is (City Engineering Manager) Joe Reitz,” Meiners said. He added he will wait until after next Tuesday’s mayoral election to see if the winner would be agreeable to the idea.
Meiners, as well as other city leaders, said the current setup, with the Engineering Department managing stormwater issues and the Utilities handling sanitary water issues, has created confusion with the public when property flooding occurs, as has happened numerous times this year.
“We need this for transparency and being able to run the water problems of the city efficiently,” Meiners said. “You can’t work for more than one boss. Right now, when there’s a water department, who do you call? We need one person who can say, ‘Ok fine, we can handle this.’”
Meiners said the problems of having two different city entities involved with stormwater and sewer maintenance will only be more evident as the city moves toward the 2020 Ohio EPA mandate that all storm and sanitary lines leading to Lake Erie be separated. That project is expected to cost between $30 million and $50 million and will require cooperation between the two entities.
“Up to now it’s worked well, but we’re looking at a minefield for a huge expense,” Meiners said.
Todd Danielson, the chief utilities executive, said he thinks the situation will “quiet down in time.”
“It’s not in the city’s best interest,” Danielson said of Meiners’ proposal. “We operate with a business philosophy. We have a $14 million operating budget and 70 percent of that comes from outside the city.
“I have a personal belief if it’s to be consolidated we would not be able to provide the same level of service and costs to our customers.”
Danielson said the city’s 1951 charter established a separate municipal utilities board and entity for good reason.
“I believe the charter did that so the city could focus on what’s best for the city and the residents,” he said. “It requires a separate government.”