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Source: Douglas Sacha / Getty

CLEVELAND – An exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation has uncovered $1 million in spending by the Cleveland Water Department to advertise and promote itself through expensive sponsorships, trinkets and even zoo animals getting bathed.

Our review of spending found Cleveland Water customers help pay for events and sponsorships that ranged from the annual Winterfest Celebration to bike races that cost $150,000 from January 2016 through July 2017.

The spending affects ratepayers in 79 communities surrounding Cleveland. It comes amid growing customer outrage over billing practices, including the utility’s tactic of threatening homeowners with foreclosure by slapping tax liens on more than 13,000 homes over the last five years.

That’s what happened to Cleveland Water customer Mark Stewart.

His home, with no leaks, was billed thousands for water he never used. Now, more there are more than $50,000 in penalties and interest on his tax bill.

“What’s at risk is losing a property that I’ve invested and took some of my life savings to secure,” Steward said. “Frivolous spending that’s not in the best interest…we’re the customer, and they’re supposed to help and serve us.”

Sponsorship agreements with the Cleveland Metroparks resulted in $45,000 in spending that included zoo animals being bathed with special credit to the Cleveland Division of Water on the Metropark Zoo Facebook page.

We also found another $136,000 in spending over the same time period for give-a-ways and trinkets such as coffee mugs, water bottles, back packs and even toothbrushes.

In its newly prepared budget for 2018, the Cleveland Water Department plans to spend another $400,000 in advertising and promotion — despite no competition — and brought in $30 million more in revenue in the last three years.

Since 2016, that will mean Cleveland ratepayers have helped the water department polish its image to the tune of more than $1 million.



Article Courtesy of WEWS News 5 Cleveland 

First and Second Picture Courtesy of Douglas Sacha and Getty Images

Video Courtesy of Facebook, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and WEWS News 5 Cleveland 

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