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Heed Mandate In St. Clairsville

St. Clairsville Mayor-elect Kathryn Thalman will not take office until Jan. 1. The mandate issued by voters in Tuesday’s election takes effect now, however.

Thalman won the three-way contest for mayor handily, netting 618 votes, according to unofficial returns. Second place was Bill Brooks, with 481 votes. Dead last was incumbent Mayor Terry Pugh, with 368 votes.

This year’s election was in some ways a referendum on a proposal to sell St. Clairsville’s water and sewer systems to a private company, Aqua Ohio. Pugh favors the move. Both Thalman and Brooks opposed it, saying more information is needed before an informed decision can be made.

Nearly three-fourths of those voting chose Thalman or Brooks. That is as clear an indication of public sentiment on the proposed sale as St. Clairsville City Council members are likely to receive.

Also on Tuesday, voters elected three people to city council. All three incumbents — Linda Jordan, Beth Oprisch and Mike Smith — were re-elected, according to unofficial returns. Oprisch and Smith, both opponents of selling the water/sewer system, were the top vote-getters.

Pugh has been a vocal proponent of selling to Aqua Ohio. His position is that the water system needs repairs and upgrades too expensive for the city to afford without major rate increases. Aqua Ohio officials have pledged to do the necessary work without big rate increases.

It is important to note that many of those who oppose an immedate sale to Aqua Ohio have not ruled out privatization of the water/sewer system. More information, perhaps including a study by an independent consultant, is needed, they say.

It had been expected that city council would vote on the sale during its Monday meeting. But one member of council was absent, due to a medical emergency. When council voted, the tally was 3-2 in favor of the Aqua Ohio deal — but the municipal charter requires four votes in favor of such decisions. The matter could come up again during council’s Nov. 18 meeting.

Even if Pugh and other supporters of the plan can muster the four votes, they should not go through with the sale. The voters have spoken — and their opinion against the current plan was loud and clear.

If any action is taken on the matter, it ought to be to authorize the independent consultant study that has been suggested.

Pushing ahead with the sale now would be going against what appears to be the strong will of the people — and that would be not be the responsible thing to do.

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