Mingo Junction Needs State Aid

It has been a staple of gallows humor in our area for years: “Will the last one out of the valley turn off the lights?”

But it isn’t even morbidly funny anymore – because they really are getting ready to turn off some of the lights in Mingo Junction.

For years, the decline of industries such as steel making and coal mining in our area has been hard on tens of thousands of Ohio Valley families. School systems and local governments in some places have suffered, too, because of decreases in revenue.

Always there was hope, however. But now many local communities will have to look elsewhere than at the steel industry for hope.

The old, once-mighty Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel network finally has collapsed. Bankruptcy has resulted in piecemeal sale of assets, with it highly unlikely some old mills ever will reopen.

Mingo Junction once was home to key Wheeling-Pitt facilities. Residents of the community prospered. Municipal government did, too. As recently as last year, the outlook seemed solid enough for Village Council to authorize construction of an expensive “splash pad” for children.

Nothing is solid now, however. Closure by RG Steel of the old mill in Mingo Junction has slashed revenue for village operations, to the point that council members met with an American Electric Power representative this week to discuss turning off some street lights.

Street lighting costs the village about $50,000 a year, so turning off some of the fixtures will save a significant amount of money. A council committee will discuss which lights should be turned off.

Finally, after decades in which national politicians passing through the valley often would pledge to rescue the steel industry, there is virtually nothing left to resuscitate.

The lights will not come back on either figuratively or literally for Mingo Junction village government unless a whole new way of doing things – less expensively – is found. As council’s discussion with AEP illustrates, officials are ready to be very creative in that regard.

State government should offer all the help in its power. A good start would be for the Ohio Water Development Authority to restructure a loan taken out a few years ago to improve the village water plant.

Like so many other facets of local government, that seemed like a good idea at the time. The steel mill was in operation and, as the village water department’s largest customer, was pumping lots of money into Mingo Junction coffers.

Without that revenue, the village may not be able to make the $600,000-a-year payments on the state loan.

State officials should find a way to help Mingo Junction out of its current dilemma. Restructuring – or even forgiving part of – the water loan would be a good start.