Time to Stop Kicking the Can

Steubenville City Council members are engaged in a tense balancing act. They understand the municipal water and sewer systems need an enormous amount of expensive work. They also understand many of their constituents, especially those living on fixed incomes, will find it difficult to pay the bill for that.

Extensive water outages, combined with improvements mandated by state and federal agencies, make it clear decisive action is needed.

Estimates of the cost range up to $30 million. That is a lot of money for a city with just 18,000 residents.

Much of the spending is unavoidable. The cost just to bring the sewage treatment plant up to Environmental Protection Agency standards is about $10 million.

Paying to get the water and sewer systems into the 21st century will require big rate increases. One proposal calls for higher charges to be phased in — with the first to add 30 percent to water and sewer bills.

Council members and Mayor Jerry Barilla worry about the effect that will have on many Steubenville residents. At the same time, they understand that, as Councilwoman Kimberly Hahn put it, there can be “no more kicking the can down the road.”

She referred to the fact that for many years, routine maintenance and regular upgrades were neglected. No doubt city officials during that era thought they were doing residents and businesses a favor by not increasing water and sewer rates to keep the systems in good condition.

They were not. Now the burden of making up for that mistake falls on council — and water and sewer customers.

Council members hope to come up with a plan to discuss with Steubenville residents. Various ideas, including seeking grants to pay for part of the necessary work, have been suggested.

Obviously, every potential for lessening the cost to city residents and businesses ought to be explored. Efforts should be made to structure any rate increases in a manner calculated to minimize the shock to low-income customers.

The work will have to proceed. Putting it off any longer would be an enormous and yes, expensive, in the long run, disservice to the people of Steubenville.

Still, city officials need to be able to assure their constituents that the bite on their budgets will be no more severe than absolutely necessary.

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