If an economic development proposal is lucrative enough, the private sector will be willing, if not eager, to absorb the cost of necessary infrastructure improvements such as new roads. Often that can get plants in operation or stores in business quicker than if government funding had to be sought.
It can be a guessing game for public officials to decide whether taxpayers' money should be committed to such projects. Often, if government money is available, it is provided.
Belmont County commissioners made such a commitment a few years ago, of $1.9 million to construct a new Interstate 70 interchange at the Ohio Valley Mall and Plaza. Now two commissioners, Ginny Favede and Charles R. Probst Jr., seem to be having second thoughts about using taxpayers' money for the purpose.
Favede and Probst wonder if the economic development boost cannot be achieved without using county money. As Favede pointed out, the oil and gas drilling boom has brought an enormous amount of progress to Belmont County. She noted "new roads are being built without county dollars. I ... struggle to understand why the county needs to spend its last infrastructure dollars on this road when other developers are funding their own projects."
It appears at least some of those who stand to profit from development at the mall/plaza are prepared to invest their own money in the I-70 interchange. Developers "are looking at putting millions of dollars into the project," Commissioner Matt Coffland said.
The plan is a complex one, involving not just the state, county and developers but also the city of St. Clairsville. Favede and Probst do not seem to have ruled out county funding - but they want to know more about how much other parties to the project will contribute, and how county money would be used.
The two commissioners are right to want to know more about plans for the project. While it may be necessary and appropriate for some county money to be spent, commissioners' goal should be to hold their participation to the minimum needed to get the work completed.