Whistling Past The Graveyard?

St. Clairsville and Steubenville have something in common, judging by comments officials in both cities have made during the past year or so. It is that water and sewer systems in both communities were allowed to deteriorate severely before anything was done about the problem.

Earlier this year, Steubenville City Council approved significant water and sewer rate increases to fund repairs and upgrades. Officials said one reason a major rate increase is needed now is that little was done to the systems for many years. It appears members of council in the past were so eager to hold rates down that they failed to provide money for ongoing maintenance and improvements.

Now, a similar dilemma faces St. Clairsville City Council. There, however, a different solution is being considered: sale of the water and sewer systems to a private company.

Proponents of sale to Aqua Ohio say that for the city to retain ownership and make needed repairs and improvements, utility rates would have to be increased dramatically. Water and sewer rates would have to double, Safety and Service Director James Zucal estimates. Aqua Ohio has pledged to undertake the necessary work while holding rates substantially below that.

Council members, reflecting their constituents, are divided on the proposal. One thing is clear, however: Something dramatic will have to be done, and soon.

Officials have posted information on the municipal website — www.stclairsville.com — regarding the situation. One section of that report on the water system states that an engineering company outlined “major problems in the systems dating back to at least June 1984.” Regular follow-up recommendations extended through 1999 and in 2015, another firm submitted a proposal “to resolve issues at the water plant.”

Yet little or nothing was done — again, perhaps because council members were reluctant to increase utility rates.

Now, as in Steubenville, St. Clairsville officials must make a difficult decision — possibly because their predecessors failed to do so.

Are officials in many other Ohio Valley communities whistling past the proverbial graveyard — that is, setting constituents up for big infrastructure shocks by failing to fund ongoing preventive maintenance and repairs? That is a question members of each and every village, town and city council in our area ought to be asking themselves.

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