Campbell looks to sell its water plant
By Graig Graziosi
The city of Campbell is one step closer to selling its water plant – and its 3,000 customer accounts – after a town-hall meeting Saturday afternoon.
Residents gathered at the community center in Roosevelt Park to hear a presentation from city Water Superintendent Joe Tovarnak and discuss the potential sale.
Tovarnak explained the city’s situation: EPA regulations that went into effect in October require the water plant to undergo an estimated $14.2 million worth of upgrades in order to remain in compliance. That cost would be passed along to city residents, raising their monthly rates for 4,000 gallons of water from $54.50 to more than $85. Those amounts do not include sewage and trash pickup, which are currently included in the city’s water bills.
Alternatively, the city could sell its water business to an entity like Aqua Ohio or the city of Youngstown, passing along the responsibility of upgrading the system to a larger supplier of water with more customers to share the cost.
After hearing the numbers, Campbell Board of Education Treasurer Bill Valentino summed up the feeling in the crowd well.
“It’s not much of a decision here, guys,” he said.
With nearly half the population at retirement age and on fixed incomes and no current plans to significantly expand the city’s commercial tax revenue, there were few voices arguing they could handle the increased rates should the city keep the plant.
By the end of the meeting, Mayor Nick Phillips said he’d like to see council pass a resolution at its meeting Wednesday to put the plant up for bid.
Though Aqua Ohio is the clear frontrunner for purchasing the plant – it made an unsolicited offer of $7 million last year for the water system and council President George Levendis and Councilman Bryan Tedesco, D-2nd, have been up-front in their support of selling to the company, Youngstown Water Commissioner Harry Johnson attended the meeting and asked residents to give the city fair consideration as a potential purchaser.
Youngstown and Campbell’s water systems are already connected through existing pipes originally built as emergency pipes in the event either city lost temporary access to potable water.
The fate of the water plant’s employees has been a frequent topic of concern raised by residents. Jennifer Johnson, Aqua Ohio’s area manager, said every employee of Campbell’s water department would have the option to continue working in some capacity at Aqua Ohio, should the company purchase the plant. The city spends about $350,000 annually on water employee salaries per year.
“We would find a place for everyone that works for the water department,” Johnson said.
Presumably, that would include the city’s current water superintendent, Tovarnak, but he said his concern is with the city first and his job second.
“What’s most important to me is what’s best for the people of the city. I’m not sure what will happen to me if we sell, but I do know what’ll happen to people in the city if our water bills go up to over $85 a month,” Tovarnak said. “I just want us to do what’s best for the people in the city.”
If the city were to sell, the money from the sale could only go toward capital improvement projects. The plant will likely be a topic of discussion at Wednesday’s council meeting.