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Dayton City Manager Talks About Challenges Facing City

Dayton City Manager, Shelley Dickstein
City of Dayton

There are a number of challenges facing the city of Dayton right now, including a debate on how city leaders are addressing the call for backup generators for the Ottawa Water plant.

Several events have put the city’s water supply in the spotlight, including a large water main break in February, and a tornado outbreak on Memorial Day. In each of those events, thousands of residents lost access to the city’s water supply.

There are also ongoing concerns about man-made contaminants in the city’s water, and concerns over the possible repayment of $3.2 million dollars in Housing & Urban Development funding the city has already spent on housing projects.

To find out how the city is dealing with these issues, we spoke with Dayton City Manager Shelly Dickstein, who begins with an update on how the Ottawa Water Plant storm damage repairs are going.

Shelley Dickstein (SD): We've been working on a number of things to repair the damage that occurred from the tornado. So, all replacement parts have been ordered to make those repairs. There are a few items that have pretty long lead times, such as boilers and dehumidifiers. Once we have those in hand, we'll be able to complete the installation around those items. The plants processes are in automated form and the plant is producing about 41 million gallons a day of water.

Jerry Kenney (JK): There is some debate going on or taking place about backup generators for the entire system can you explain that and where we're headed there?

SD: Sure. So, the backup generator conversation, with regards to the water plants, is an understandable one. The first thing that I'd like to point out is that you know we work very closely with the American Water Works Association and their best practices, and their best practices suggest that a plant should have a primary line, a secondary line, and then have a priority relationship with the power generating company so that in the event of a natural disaster they have the ability to respond quickly if both primary and secondary fail. And in Dayton's case each of our plants have individual primary and secondary feeds that come from different substations as well as being completely redundant to one another.

So, we have four ways of redundancy and backup generation for our plants. And I think it's important for folks to know that every day we try to make capital investment decisions that have the best return on investment for citizens, and to be able to put backup generators in the size we would need to generate the power to produce a water plant, which is essentially, practically a small power plant in of itself, would be around 20 to 40 million dollars and that cost would be borne by the ratepayers, you know, as we put that kind of capital investment in.

And what I'd like to really emphasize is in the last 10 years we have had significant power outages caused by storms. We have had Hurricane Ike in 2008 where there were 450,000 people without power, yet there was zero disruption to our water service. We had storm Derecho in 2012, and again 250,000 people were impacted by the loss of power but not one drop of water was disrupted in our water service. So, and there have been five such storms over the last 10 years where we've had significant power outages that have not impacted water service. And so, what we are trying really hard to do is to be good stewards of our tax dollars and for our ratepayers making sure that the investments we are making in our, in our water plants are actually benefiting our rate payers over the long haul.

JK: There are many stakeholders talking about contamination, the city, Montgomery County, Riverside, and of course Wright Patterson Air Force Base and that is the polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). And so, where does, where does that stand right now?

SD: Well we continue to work very closely with the EPA to make sure that we are monitoring and testing regularly. We are providing monthly testing information to the EPA with regards to our PFAS contamination levels. We remain well below the federal limit that was set at 70 parts per trillion by the U.S. EPA and you know Dayton sits at you know, on average our test results are somewhere between 10 and 12 parts per trillion. So, we continue to monitor closely. We're working very closely with Wright-Patt Air Force Base, Ohio EPA and hoping to get some funding from ODOD to be able to address some of the contamination issues that were ever result from the base.

JK: We wanted to have you give us a breakdown of the problem with some HUD funding that has been an issue lately and I understand there was a deadline for some paperwork from the city. So, explain that situation to us.

SD: So, we've been working probably for the last couple of years with HUD trying to address some of the issues that were discovered about 2016 or so with regards primarily to compliance issues and our Home Program. And we had been waiting since September of 2018 to receive our monitoring port which would have been the final direction coming out of the home HUD office so that we would be able to basically finalize what we believe is the impact and negotiate and come to some kind of agreement to move forward with our Home Program, that's basically been frozen for the last couple of years.

We received, in the late part of June, we finally received our monitoring report that indicated that today potential 3.2 million dollar of repayment with regards to our funding. We strongly dispute that number and our response letter which was given to them within our 30 day time limit, essentially states that we think there is about a $920,000 obligation that the city owes to HUD and that is for project files that are incomplete or that we cannot strongly demonstrate compliance around. We are very confident that there has not been theft or fraud related to the program because of our forensic audit and we are now waiting for HUD to essentially come back and agree refute negotiate with regards to the final obligation so that we can settle, get that settled and hopefully move forward with our Home Program again.

JK: This is the city of Dayton saying ‘for whatever reason and whoever is responsible that we were not compliant with these issues’ and you feel that the nine hundred twenty thousand dollars is what actually should cover this and bring the issue to a close, correct?

SD: We we know that there was some lackadaisical record keeping and we have fully owned and hold ourselves accountable for that. And again, most of these records were back in the early 2000s to about 2010ish or so. So, we have done a great deal of work cleaning up our files making sure policies and procedures and that staff were trained and staff replaced. And so, we're feeling very good about where we are right now with all of the investment we've made and now it's a matter of getting HUD to support that work and move us forward.

JK: Still with all this and everything that's going on with the city the $920,000 is a pretty big hit. How do city leaders adjust for that in the budget?

SD: The first thing is that's important to know it's $920,000 is money that the city of Dayton has already spent to implement home projects. So, this was an ask for a reimbursement from HUD to the city of Dayton for $920,000. We believe that there is also about a $900,000 credit that we've also been requesting. This gets very confusing because while we've been locked out for two years of the Home program there have been deadlines that have come and gone and expired and as that happens and we can't update our records and get draw down funds to reimburse ourselves they sweep that money back. So, we think at the end of the day it's almost a wash between $920,000 and nine hundred thousand dollars that's already been swept away.

The long and short of the story though is we will use some of our reserve funding that we have if we cannot get ourselves reimbursed for the $920,000 for the programs we've delivered. We will go ahead and pay ourselves back essentially with some of the reserve funding....

It is unfortunate that we've come across some of these things that occurred many administrations or leadership positions ago, but I am very excited about the leadership team that we have in place, that the department directors are some of the strongest that we've ever had and the work that they are doing especially, as we have demonstrated these last six months of managing through really difficult crises, I couldn't be more proud of that work. And I think that we're holding ourselves accountable taking responsibility to continue to strive for excellence.

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.