Now that most of the Ashtabula City Council has sat on its collective hands and let a $35 million offer for the city’s wastewater treatment plant, well, go to waste, it’s time to count the days until spring.
Surely that’s when Ashtabula can begin harvesting dollars from the money tree that made it so easy for the city council to turn up its nose at Aqua’s bid for the plant.
The city has sat on that offer for two years. It was time to fish or cut bait in the estimation of City Manager Jim Timonere, who requested an ordinance to be drafted during Monday’s meeting.
Council Vice President Michael Speelman made a motion to approve Timonere’s request, but that was as far as consideration of a potential sale to Aqua got.
No one seconded Speelman’s motion and that was tantamount to Ashtabula telling Aqua, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Had the ordinance passed, it would have been read during the second March meeting and come up for a vote in April.
We’re not sure if the sale should have happened, but it was worth a look and some discussion, since $35 million clearly doesn’t grow on trees. Timonere’s proposed ordinance would have provided an opportunity for such discussion.
Council President John Roskovics has been opposed to any sale from the start and doubled down on that Wednesday, when he told Star Beacon reporter Shelley Terry he doesn’t believe $35 million is a lot of money for a city the size of Ashtabula.
We disagree. The city’s 2019 budget was $9.6 million. Look around you. That money — likely about $25 million after the plant’s estimated debts would have been settled — could have been put to much-needed use just about anywhere in Ashtabula.
Roskovics and others had raised concerns about potential rate increases for customers under Aqua’s ownership of the plant, but those rates were going to go up no matter who owns the facility. The simple necessity of upkeep on an aging plant ensures that.
“We have a very limited number of customers to pay for these upgrades, far less than Aqua,” Timonere said.
“In addition, we spent almost $1 million on engineering for our last upgrades. Aqua has staff on hand to do this as well as much of the work we currently contract out, which ultimately increases the cost of these projects and falls to the users.”
Roskovics remains unconvinced the sale would have been a plus for the city.
“If we let our levies expire that money would be gone in 5-6 years,” Roskovics said. “I believe in our residents. They have shown us many times they are willing to support our city and they want our city to prosper.”
So citizens will continue to be asked to foot the bill for various projects, when there might have been a chance to get things done without going to voters.
“Can you imagine what a $1 million project in each of our wards would do for our neighborhoods?” Timonere had asked.
Yes, we can imagine that. Unfortunately, that’s all Ashtabula can do now.