Get Most Bang Out of Bucks

At first glance, $72.5 million sounds like enough money to do just about anything officials want to accomplish for Belmont County’s water and sewer systems. It may not be enough even to undertake all the upgrades envisioned two years ago, however.

On Friday, it was announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing a $45.5 million loan and nearly $15 million in grants for water system improvements in the county. Last fall, it was revealed another $9 million in loans and $3 million in grants would be coming for sewer system work.

County officials were right to be in a celebratory mood last week when they heard of the new $60.5 million in federal support. They have big plans to replace aged infrastructure and expand water service to some rural areas.

That will be a direct boon to thousands of Belmont County residents. It also will provide an invaluable backup to some municipal water systems, should they encounter problems in the future.

Belmont County residents and businesses are paying a large share of the cost, through higher rates approved in June, it should be noted. Remember, about three-fourths of the $72.5 million in federal support is in the form of loans that must be repaid.

Groundwork for the project was laid in 2016, through a comprehensive study of water and sewer systems in the county. It pointed to some upgrades that need to be considered mandatory, such as replacement of a county water system treatment plant built in 1965.

But during the past two years — more particularly during the past several months — costs for many types of construction have increased. As we have reported, that is affecting highway and bridge projects in West Virginia and a major school upgrade plan in Ohio County.

There is no reason to expect water and sewer projects will not go up in price, too.

That may force Belmont County to set some priorities, to ensure absolutely necessary work gets done. It also may mean getting some construction bids approved as quickly as possible, beating price increases that are on the horizon.

Planning the improvements and getting the federal help was not easy. Now, county officials should be concentrating on ways to make the money go as far as possible for the good of Belmont County residents. This is a concern that may not have been present two years ago — but it is a reality today.

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