Easing the Pain In Steubenville

Let us hope the utility rate increase being considered by Steubenville City Council adds up. That is, will it provide enough money, quickly enugh, for the municipality to make long-overdue repairs and improvements to its water and sewerage systems?

After many months of agonizing over the matter, council members seem to have settled on a strategy. Its foundation is avoiding a steep increase in utility bills immediately, but at the same time pumping enough new revenue into city coffers to undertake a near-ground-up rebuilding of the water and sewer systems.

Years of neglect have left both systems badly in need of work. As recently as January, a lengthy water outage in downtown Steubenville made the need apparent. And, the state Environmental Protection Agency is ordering the city to make improvements.

At one point, council members were told they would have to increase water and sewer rates alone by 29 percent to cover the whopping $29 million estimate for making necessary repairs and upgrades. That did not sit well with council members worried about the impact on low-income households.

But on Tuesday, Councilwoman Kimberly Hahn came up with a different formula, which she said would result in a 15-percent boost in water and sewer rates.

The total increase — covering water, sewer and garbage collection — would raise minimum monthly utility bills to $85.59, up from the current $68.20. That would amount to an overall increase of about 25 percent.

Hahn added that in ensuing years, rates would have to climb even more — to $101.03 by 2022. That would be more than 48 percent higher than current levels.

There is no getting around the fact that the city’s utility programs need more money — lots of it.

But give Hahn credit for a phase-in formula that lessens the immediate pain.

Council members plan to hold two public meetings, at times yet to be announced, to discuss the plan. Between now and then, assessement needs to be conducted, to ensure Hahn’s structure will bring in enough additional revenue to make the needed improvements.

If so, it may be the best council members can do for their constituents.

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