Columbus -- State senators had their first hearing Feb. 9 on a billion-dollar proposal to help local communities update their water and sewer systems.
Senate Joint Resolution 3 was offered by Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) as a way to generate about $100 million annually over a decade for infrastructure improvements.
"This resolution is not the entire solution to our underground infrastructure needs, but it would be a significant step in the right direction," Schiavoni told the Senate Finance Committee. "The passage of SJR 3 could be the difference in how quickly projects can move forward and the timetable in which they are completed. In addition, it will create thousands of jobs and improve economic opportunities for the people of Ohio."
The resolution would be comparable to the state's public works program. Voters two years ago OK'd nearly $1.9 billion in bonding for roads, bridges and other projects through that program.
If OK'd by lawmakers, SJR 3 would be placed on the ballot, with voters have the final say.
Schiavoni introduced the bond resolution following E. coli issues at Mill Creek Metroparks in Youngstown, traced to overflows from an aged sewer system.
Youngstown officials already have long-term plans for dealing with that and other water and sewer issues, with $147 million in projects outlined over a 20-year period.
Other areas in the state are dealing with similar infrastructure issues, costs and timetables for improvements.
"With the lack of sufficient resources both locally and federally, our communities are often faced with the insurmountable task of maintaining and upgrading a vast network of deteriorating underground infrastructure," Schiavoni said. "Therefore, it is necessary for the state to make this crucial investment to protect the health and wellbeing of Ohioans."
Schiavoni said the bond issue is focused on publicly owned water and sewer systems. As written currently, it wouldn't cover infrastructure on private properties, including pipes connecting residences in Sebring that are linked to lead issues in that community.
Schiavoni said he is having discussions to potentially amend the bond language to include grants or other financial assistance for homeowners.
"The water source is fine," he said. "What was going on in the city, all of that is up to date. But the water lines that run from the home to the mainline, those are leadThe problem is, we've got to get rid of the lead pipes."
He added, "As I've continued to talk to all the interested parties, I'm willing to have conversations so that we can make this work for as many Ohioans as possible."
SJR 3 has bipartisan support, and other groups also have called for a bond issue to support water and sewer improvements. Gov. John Kasich is not supportive, though his signature would not be required to place the issue before voters.
Sen. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said Feb. 9 that he supports the resolution, but he questioned the funding proposed. The former city council member noted hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure needs in his own hometown alone.
"It's a drop in the bucket," he said of SJR 3. "But it's needed."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.