Campbell considers selling water system, calls for public comment

Town-hall meeting set for Thursday

By Graig Graziosi


City officials are calling on residents to weigh in on the fate of the water treatment plant and distribution system.

Mayor Nick Phillips, city council members and wastewater Superintendent James Tovarnak will present information regarding the plant at 7 p.m. Thursday during a town-hall meeting at the administration building on Tenney Avenue.

Council President George Levendis characterized the plant as being near “catastrophic failure” at a recent council meeting, and warned that repairing and maintaining the plant could cost the city millions of dollars.

The administrators will call on the public to decide if they want to sell the plant, have the city continue to operate it, and if so, how they want the city to pay for the needed improvements.

The plant was built in 1973, and its last major upgrade was in 1993. Tovarnak said while any plant is in constant need of maintenance, much of Campbell’s decades-old equipment is in varying states of disrepair, often requiring parts that are no longer manufactured.

“We have to fabricate our own parts for some of those machines, which is, of course, more expensive and takes more time than if we could just order a replacement,” Tovarnak said.

The plant’s last upgrade was financed by $4.9 million loan the city is paying on through 2024.

In addition to the aging equipment, Campbell’s water infrastructure – including 43 miles worth of pipe – is in need of an update as well.

“It’s not uncommon for us to find pipes stamped with ‘1910’ on them or older,” Tovarnak said.

The administrators also pointed to regulations beginning in Octobert 2018 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s pursuit of water sustainability that would force the city to make sweeping upgrades to the system.

“If we do nothing, then our problem only gets worse, and we end up out of compliance with the EPA,” Levendis said.

Residents will be presented two major options to the public during the town hall – selling the plant, or funding the needed improvements themselves.

“If the public says they want to keep the plant, then we’ll fight like hell for the plant,” Phillips said. “We just want to make sure the people don’t feel like we’re trying to undermine them. We want this decision to be the public’s and fully transparent.”

Levendis said if the public decides they prefer the water system to be sold, the city would likely sell to a municipality, such as Youngstown, or to the private water distribution company Aqua Ohio. Campbell spends $25,000 monthly purchasing raw untreated water from Aqua Ohio.

On Monday, Aqua Ohio said it would be interested in purchasing the city of Youngstown’s water distribution system for $50 million. Jeff La Rue, spokesman for Aqua Ohio, said the company is interested in partnering with or purchasing other local water systems, including Campbell’s.

Both Levendis and Phillips were adamant that, should the city sell the plant, they would only agree to a contract that ensured all the city’s water employees would be guaranteed employment under the new ownership.

“No employees will lose their jobs. Not one,” Levendis said.

While selling would move the burden of maintaining the plant off the city, it would raise questions concerning the city’s long-term ability to generate revenue.

The water plant is Campbell’s only major asset and one of the city’s few revenue sources of revenue.

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