Steubenville, Ohio split on privatization of water and wastewater operations

STEUBENVILLE - The Jefferson County commissioners appear split on whether to privatize the operations of the county water and sewer department.
Jack Gilmore, county sanitary engineer, told the commissioners in a letter on Thursday the benefits of privatization and combining water and sewer systems is the best route for the county to take.
Gilmore said a private water operator can extend water lines at less expense than the county and reduce rates through more customers.
Commissioner Adam Scurti said he wants the issue of privatization to be addressed this year.
The county received a presentation from Consumers Ohio Water Co. last year to lease or sell the operation of the county water and sewer department.
Scurti said the benefits far outweigh the risks of leasing the operation of the water and sewer department. He said the rates still could be kept down and customers wanting county water could see lines extended to their area.
Gilmore repeatedly has pushed for a regional water and sewer system but that would take the cooperation of cities and villages in the county.
Commissioner Thomas Graham said there are pros and cons to privatizing the operation of the water and sewer department. He said he went to Consumers office in Ohio for a presentation on the company and what it could offer. But he wants more research done and won't make a decision until then.
Commissioner Richard Delatore said the commissioners raised water rates this year to allow the water department to operate in the black. He said he wants to see rates reduced and believes the current water department and its administration can accomplish it.
"I believe they (Consumers) have to lower rates or we don't need them," he said.
Graham said Consumers officials told him they can stabilize rates for five years but refused to say what would happen in the sixth year.
Gilmore said the county water and sewer department is unable to do needed maintenance work on the system because of a lack of money.
Scurti said the water and sewer department has been a source of controversy in the county for the past several years and he wants to see it end.
Delatore said he believes Consumers is looking to make a 20 percent profit off the operation of the county water and sewer department.
"I don't like that," Delatore said, adding he believes the county can continue to provide the water and sewer services to residents.
In other matters, commissioners heard a request for money to improve the electrical service at Friendship Park.
Commissioners also approved a resolution urging Gov. Bob Taft to continue a tax credit for utilities using Ohio coal.
Delatore said utilities receive a $3 a ton tax credit for Ohio coal but Taft believes eliminating the tax credit could save Ohio $44 million a year.
Delatore said the tax credit allows smaller coal companies to stay in business.
Taft is considering ending the program prior to its 2004 expiration.
"I would like to see it run through 2011 so companies can stay competitive," Delatore said.
Commissioners also approved a contract between the county sheriff's department and the county job and family services department. The $105,466 contract is for security at the department and to operate the metal detector. The contract will be paid with state and federal money.