Referendum focus is on water system

Dill supports the sale or lease of the water plant;
Fontes favors other options.



CAMPBELL — A referendum to bar the sale or lease of the city’s water treatment plant and distribution system is the major issue in Campbell’s November general election, for the second year running.

A referendum was successful in 2006, blocking the sale of the water system to Aqua Ohio, a private water company.

This time, the referendum to void city council legislation authorizing Mayor John Dill to negotiate for the sale or lease of the water system is about more than just the water system. It also appears to be the key issue in races for mayor and council.

Dill’s opponent is F. Anthony Fontes.

Dill, mayor since 1999, supports the sale or lease of the plant and distribution system, saying the city can no longer financially support the system without further raising water rates and putting an even bigger burden on the residents.

Fontes, who was a write-in candidate for mayor and president of council in 2005, disagrees, saying there are other options besides selling the plant. “No one has looked at going into a 50-50 partnership with other communities and forming a metro water district,” he said.

Asked what evidence he has that such an idea would work, he said only that he had “talked to several people and they agree. We need to pursue other avenues before we consider selling.”

Dill said he would love to see a metro district but doesn’t think it can happen. The city is landlocked and has no place to sell additional water outside of its own borders.

He said a private water company, Aqua Ohio, supplies water to several area communities bordering Campbell, and Youngstown city has its own water treatment and distribution system.

In fact, Dill said Aqua pays Campbell about $300,000 a year to treat water which Aqua resells. “If we lost that contract, we’d be in a real bind,” he said.

A large part of the problem is that with the loss of the steel industry and a population that plummeted from 14,000 to 8,600, the financial base for the city and its water plant has been cut drastically, Dill said.

The mayor said that in previous water talks with Youngstown, it was willing to sell water to Campbell but not interested in purchasing its water treatment plant or distribution system.

In preliminary talks with Youngstown officials just befpre the second referendum initiative, however, Dill said Youngstown had changed its stance and was willing to talk about taking over debt of the plant, using the plant as a pump station and absorbing Campbell’s water department employees.

However, Dill said, when the referendum was filed, all negotiations, by law, had to be halted.

Fontes said he favored lowering the income tax from 2.5 percent to 2 percent to “level the playing field” with Struthers and other area cities in attracting business. However, Fontes did not know how much revenue such a move that would cost Campbell — only that the city would have to “bite the bullet for a little longer.”

When asked what he thought the reaction of the state Financial Planning and Supervision Commission, of which he was once a member, would be, he said: “I think we could sell it to them.”

The commission, which oversees spending while the city is in fiscal emergency, has recommended that the water plant be sold as part of the plan to get out of fiscal emergency.

“The commission’s recommendation isn’t necessarily in the best interests of the city,” Fontes said.

Dill said the city has turned the corner financially, and expects that all accounts but the water department will be out of deficit by year’s end. But he said the city has no way of making up the loss of the $300,000 a year that a 1/2 percent cut in the income tax would cause.

Fontes’ priorities include returning all safety forces to work and repairing all safety hazards in the city, such as catch basins that have fallen in and major potholes.

Fontes is awaiting trial in Youngstown Municipal Court on a charge of driving under the influence and failure to control his vehicle. He has pleaded innocent. He was charged by Campbell police after he hit a utility pole on Madison Avenue at about 11:15 p.m. on Oct. 10. The case was moved to Youngstown Municipal Court to avoid any appearance of impropriety, officials said.

Among Dill’s priorities are keeping the city financially sound and stable by keeping costs down and living within the budget; increasing the tax base with new jobs; working with neighboring communities to consolidate resources and labor costs; and economic development.

Other offices being contested in the Nov. 6 general election, and the candidates are (incumbents are identified by an *):

ULaw director: Atty. Brian J. Macala*; Atty. Mark J. Kolmacic.

U Council president: William Vansuch*; George N. Krinos.

UCouncil 1st Ward: Michael Tsikouris*; Michael E. Berry Sr.

UCouncil 2nd Ward: Brian Tedesco*; Janet Bonner.

UCouncil 3rd Ward: Joseph G. Mazzocca*; Denise Sarigianopoulos.

UCouncil 4th Ward: Lewis F. Jackson Jr.*; Juanita Rich.