Avoid Automatic Water Rate Hikes

Steubenville’s water system has been neglected in various ways for many years. Billing, including collection of delinquent accounts, needs attention. So do upgrades in the miles of water lines.

City officials have begun the process of making systemic improvements. A rate increase, with proceeds to go toward repairing and replacing water lines, was approved in January. City Manager Tim Boland has prepared a five-year improvement plan, on which city council members are scheduled to vote this evening.

Water Superintendent Mike Wigal has said his goal is to undertake two major water line replacement projects each year. Upgrading the entire system will take a long, long time, however. As Wigal has noted, the city has nearly 70 miles of water distribution lines.

Clearly, a five-year plan for the water department makes sense.

But council members should question part of Boland’s proposal. He wants to build annual water rate increases of 1-2 percent into the plan. That would provide relief from inflation, he explains.

To an extent, yes. But what about years when the general rate of inflation is less than 1-2 percent? What about times when it is substantially higher?

A better approach than automatic rate increases would be regular monitoring of the department’s costs, followed by annual reconsideration of rates. That would be more fare to water customers – and, in the long run, more realistic in ensuring the department has enough money to operate.