St. C. Council talks water privatization

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK St. Clairsville Safety and Service Director Jim Zucal, right, suggests Monday that the city council discuss a private bid for water and wastewater privatization at a special meeting next week. City Council President Tim Porter and other council members will agree on a scheduled day and time. An advisory committee has been evaluating the bid.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The bid for water and wastewater privatization will be going before the city council for discussion soon, where city leaders will talk about an offer to take over the system.

On Monday, Safety and Service Director Jim Zucal suggested that the city council begin to look at the proposal from Aqua Ohio, the private, state-regulated entity that has expressed an interest in taking on the water and wastewater system for the city.

The bid is currently being evaluated by a committee of experts in engineering and water with ties to the area, with Zucal and Mayor Terry Pugh.

“I’ve looked at it so many times, we do have a public review group,” he said. “They’re having another meeting on Wednesday. … For council, I think, it would be prudent on our part to have a special meeting, taking no more than an hour, just to go over all this.”

The next advisory committee meeting will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the city building. The work session with council will likely be scheduled for next week.

Councilwoman Beth Oprisch noted that the meeting would be open to the public. Law Director Richard Myser agreed.

“I think that’s important with this information,” Oprisch said. “I just really want to discuss this in public so that everybody knows what our options are.”

“Sure. We’ve been very transparent all along,” Zucal said, referring to prior community presentations at the recreation center and the earlier council meetings where the city’s options regarding water and wastewater were up for discussion.

“Now we have the numbers, and if the choices are a bid, or increasing utility rates by three times, I want to make sure that we’re talking those numbers,” Oprisch said.

Pugh reminded her that the contract would still go through a negotiation phase.

“There’s a number of things to go through yet, before you come out with any final product,” he said.

The full council of Oprisch, Mark Bukmir, Frank Sabatino, Perry Basile, Linda Jordan, Mike Smith, and Council President Tim Porter will await the schedule.

The advisory committee has met twice to review the offer from Aqua Ohio, the sole bidder.

In past meetings, Zucal has pointed out issues with the aging water plant and lines, and while the water rates will increase regardless of what choice the city makes, according to the bid the rate increase from 2020 to 2026 would be a total $4.13, with increments of $1, $1.67, 71 cents and 75 cents. After 2026 there would be an increase of up to 9.9 percent, with increases of $3.75 for 2027, 2028, and 2029.

The council could take a vote on the bid by August.

In other matters related to water, Pugh announced that the city has been approved for an $800,000 loan from the Ohio Public Works Commission for the long-standing repairs to the storm sewers of Bellview Street and Overbaugh Avenue, which has seen flooding issues, more recently last July, when residents had sanitary sewerage backed up into their homes, and sewerage mixed with storm water.

Pugh said the problem has been ongoing for 30 years. The money comes from leftover funding unused by other municipalities during 2018. He said it is a zero-interest 30-year loan.

“The few I’ve talked to are very, very happy. This is something that’s been long, long overdue,” Pugh said.

Afterward, Zucal said 20 to 25 homes are impacted on Bellview Street and Overbaugh Avenue. He said he hoped to have the project ongoing in 2021. He said the project should take about nine months.

“Basically when the weather breaks in the spring of 2020 through the rest of that year,” Zucal said. “We have water and sanitary sewer that mixed together in both directions. We have water going into the sanitary system and sanitary going into the storm water, so they’re both mixing, which means you have raw sewage in your storm water, and you’re treating storm water at the wastewater plant that mixing with sewage that you shouldn’t be treating.”