A consultant Steubenville officials may hire to recommend a long-term fiscal strategy for the water department made some very good points during a discussion with City Council members this week.
City Manager Cathy Davison explained to council she would like to spend $8,500 to have the Rural Community Assistance Program analyze the municipal utility system. RCAP is a non-profit private agency.
On Tuesday, RCAP representative Josh Eggleston met with members of council's Finance Committee. He noted city officials' goal is fair and equitable rates but also revenue high enough to sustain the water system.
Eggleston recommended a five- to 10-year water system financial plan that would take inflation into account and provide for what he called a "predictive and preventive maintenance program."
He explained that too often, local governments react to equipment failures instead of planning ahead with expenditures that could save money in the long run by keeping infrastructure in good condition.
One reason for that is that utility customers want the lowest rates possible and sometimes balk at paying more to upgrade equipment that, at least apparently, seems to be working adequately.
Council has taken no action yet on whether to pay for a study by the RCAP. Such an analysis could save much more money than it will cost, however, so city officials probably would be wise to proceed.
At the same time, holding utility costs down - especially for Steubenville water customers living on fixed incomes - should be a continuing priority. As much as possible, city officials should implement water rate increases only when they are needed, not in anticipation of expenses that may - or may not - be higher in the future.