Move Cautiously On Water Woes

In office as Steubenville city manager for just a few weeks, Tim Boland already is up to his neck in hot (and cold) water. City council members should give him time to investigate their concerns before they take drastic action.

Steubenville’s municipal water department has become very controversial during recent months. Earlier this month, council approved a water rate hike amid complaints, some from members, that the city should do more to collect on delinquent water bills.

That is a valid concern. One estimate is that nearly $3 million in payments for city water are delinquent.

Adding to officials’ headaches are claims by some that some water customers receive preferential treatment from the city. That is a contention denied strongly by those in municipal government.

This week, city officials received a letter from a bill collection company, suggesting Steubenville should “find another (collection) agency.” The letter added that “there was very little commitment on the city’s part to make this project successful.”

During that meeting, four council members urged that the city contract for an independent audit of the water department. “I want an independent audit. I am tired of people pointing the fingers at us,” Councilman Willie Paul said.

His frustration is understandable – as is that of city residents and businesses told they will have to pay more for water while nearly $3 million in uncollected bills are outstanding.

Boland may well be wondering what kind of mess he got himself into by taking the city manager’s job. On Tuesday, he urged that before demanding an independent audit, council members allow him time to work with accountants conducting the regular annual audit of the water department. “It is a good starting point,” Boland explained, adding, “If it makes sense at that point, we can look at an independent audit.”

He is right. Boland should be given time to look into the water department’s problems and gain some idea of what they are. After that, he may well urge council to contract for an independent audit. But for now, council should bide its time and allow Boland to learn more about the water department.