It is more probable than not that somewhere in East Ohio or the Northern Panhandle, a utility crew will be repairing a water line break sometime today. Line breaks are a constant headache for municipal and public service district water departments.
Steubenville officials are right, then, to be considering a proactive approach to the challenge.
Like many Ohio Valley communities, Steubenville has a water distribution system that is suffering from age. Many of the city's neighborhoods are served by water lines generations old. It is not unheard of for crews to discover century-old lines.
During a meeting this week, Steubenville City Council members seemed receptive to the suggestion that a surcharge be added to water bills, to build up an infrastructure renovation fund.
Sixth Ward Councilman David Lalich noted that the previous evening, city crews had to repair the 10th water line break of the line in the Aberdeen Road area of the city. "We all have water line breaks in our wards and we need to do something about our again water distribution infrastructure," Lalich emphasized. He proposed the city charge each water customer a flat $5.50 a month fee "to build up a fund to replace water lines throughout the city."
Some council members expressed interest in the idea. Councilman Rick Perkins suggested the city consider borrowing $10 million, to be paid back in 20 years, for a major water line replacement project. Payments on the loan could be made through the surcharge suggested by Lalich, he said.
No action on the proposal was taken Tuesday, because council members agreed to wait for results of a consultant's study of the water and sewer systems. Mayor Domenick Mucci said the consultant and city officials can discuss the monthly fee idea.
No one likes higher utility bills - but restricting them to covering only day-to-day operations is shortsighted. At some point the cost of aged equipment surpasses the price tag for installing new facilities.
Council members should consider Lalich's idea - with an eye to holding the monthly charge as low as possible to finance a realistic infrastructure modernization program.