One of the lesser-known adventures of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes was written not by his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but by American novelist Nicholas Meyer in 1974. It was called “The Seven Percent Solution.” In it, the harrowed and heroic detective returns from a hiatus that apparently includes everything from a distorted report of his demise (something readers are long accustomed to with regards to his nemesis Moriarty) and an unflinching look into the investigator’s jaded (if not sordid) past. Without giving away the entire tale for those who would like to explore it further, the plot is largely about an attempt by the tortured investigator to ignore the faux pas and depredations of one’s past, an effort to deal with the effects of long-term addictions to poor behavior and what might be considered a last ditch attempt at recovery.
The game would be considered ‘afoot’ indeed, to discover the clues connecting Meyer’s effort to the recent 11-1 Toledo City Council vote to increase water rates over the next five years, but that’s the almost criminal activity we’re presented with. It doesn’t take the Baker Street irregulars however to see the injustice of increases of 13.2 percent in each of the next four years and 4.5 percent in the fifth, after 9 percent increases during the four preceding years.
Much like the Meyer’s tale, however, we can see that much of the present iniquity has deep roots in the past where the water department is concerned. For many years, the department fact was running profitably, regardless of the sometimes tarnished financial picture of the city’s general fund. That financial image was so squeaky clean in fact, that the water department long became known not just for the quality of its product, but equally (and perhaps unfortunately) for employing political appointees and workers nominally supported by the city’s general fund who needed to be scrubbed fiscally (cut), but not removed actually. These waters became deeply muddied however in 2002 with the issuance of a consent decree that included the city, state and the EPA that mandated that Toledo upgrade its equipment and eliminate the release of untreated sewage into the Maumee River from the Bay View Wastewater plant, while reducing storm water runoff at the same time.
One might think that the department’s previous apparently able administrators had to recognize the necessity of continuous capital improvement with so extensive a system and wonder at its lack. Some might go on to wonder whether this obvious but necessary evil was ever pointed out to previous city managers, strong mayors and city councils. They might indeed wonder if it was simple ignorance or a nefarious plot to explain why no adequate plan was in place to do required work within such a profitable department prior to the decree. One might even go on to speculate whether the department’s corrupt use as a political waste treatment facility may have not only contributed to it’s inability to discover its own structural weaknesses, but ultimately to its impotency for cleaning up its act.
The Glass City is certainly not the only one in the nation currently suffering from similar problems in dealing with waste (politically, financially or where its water and sewer systems are concerned). There are other even higher profile examples of dilapidation at the municipal level, where extravagance and political expediency have resulted in ignoring the common sense of improving infrastructure long hidden from sight, while more high profile and extravagant expenditures go on. There’s little consolation to taxpayers however, in discovering that they are part of an ever-growing group of victims to the what might be considered crimes of political short sightedness and business as usual governance, while the Moriartys in charge are instead considering their run for the next office up the political ladder.
The connections between the two tales are elementary enough however, based not only on the plot, but the similarity of math. The initial rate after all (let’s use the number 1 for the sake of ease), must be multiplied by its 13.2 percent increase (1.132), with that total multiplied by the same increase three more times cumulatively. That subtotal must then be multiplied one last time by the final year’s 4.5 percent rate increase (1.045) for its final result. And so a city which started with a department once considered to be in good fiscal health, one which through years of fiscal addiction, neglect and perhaps even abuse now requires far more than the 7 percent chemical solution Holmes required for maintenance of his problem. For its own belated recognition of fiscal state of the water department, Toledo will require in the next five years no less than the cash of a 70 percent solution.
Tags: Tim Higgins