Turnout baffles mayor

The mayor said the city water plant has become a liability.
CAMPBELL -- Standing in the hall outside city council chambers, Mayor John Dill slowly shook his head in response to the handful of people who arrived for an information meeting on the possible sale of the city's water plant to Aqua Ohio Inc.
City council voted in November 2005 to sell the plant to Aqua Ohio, but a group of citizens successfully petitioned for a referendum to stop it. The referendum is on the Nov. 7 ballot, and Dill has scheduled information meetings at city hall to explain the reasons for the sale to any interested citizens.
Dill said the group of about 15 people at Tuesday's meeting was made up mostly of water plant employees and people who attended a similar meeting last week. Another meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, also in council chambers.
The sale of the city's water treatment plant is the most important decision to face city voters in decades, yet the response seems to be apathy.
"This one is hard to read," Dill said. "We have no idea how it's going to go. Either people have already made up their minds how they are going to vote, or they just don't care. I'm afraid it's the latter."
Residents who attended the meeting questioned why few people attended. Most notably absent, they said, were citizens who organized the referendum effort.
Dill suggested those who wanted the sale put before a vote of the people accomplished that goal. He said, however, he doesn't even know if the people who organized the referendum are against the sale. The issue for them seemed to be taking the deal off the city council table and putting it before voters.
Dill explained the city's reasons for wanting to sell the treatment plant and water distribution system.
The sale would get the city, which is in state-designated fiscal emergency, out of debt.
About the deal
Under the terms of the agreement approved by city council in November 2005, Aqua would assume the 4.2 million debt the city still owes for repairs made to the plant several years ago. Aqua would pay the city 3 million up front and 300,000 a year for 10 years, as well as make 100,000 a year in improvements to the system.
"We just can't afford the water plant anymore," he said. "It is a liability now, not an asset."
He said the plant was built to serve the 14,000 people who lived in Campbell in the 1940s. Since then, the population has plunged to about 8,900. Residents have already seen an increase in their water bills.
The city not only lost residential customers, but large commercial and industrial ones as well, he said.
Dill said when the city went into fiscal emergency, the first thing state officials said was the city ought not to be in the utility business.
He said city officials worked hard to get a fair deal for the city -- and one in which the water plant employees can keep their jobs.
About 1 million of the initial 3 million would be used to bring city accounts out of debt, then the rest will go into capital improvement and economic development funds, Dill explained. He said millions of dollars are needed for demolition all over the city, and at least 1 million is needed to clean up the 37 acres of former industrial property the city owns.
There are grants available for cleanup and economic development, but most grants require local matching money, he said. "To do just about anything, you need seed money," he said.

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