After a contentious meeting last week, the Akron City Council took a welcome step toward resolving the longstanding problem of what to do with the city’s steam utility. After questions and confrontations, the council voted 12-1 to put an issue on the Nov. 5 ballot that would transfer ownership to Akron Children’s Hospital, the utility’s largest customer.
At the special meeting, called during the council’s summer recess, Mayor Don Plusquellic made plain the continuing cost of subsidizing the steam plant’s operations. Since 2007, the city has provided $28 million to keep the plant running. More repair work lies ahead.
Questions raised about the plant’s value to the city must be viewed in that context. In other words, the unfortunate reality is that the steam plant has little, if any, value. It must be subsidized. No other major Ohio city operates such a facility.
For its part, Children’s Hospital has made a most attractive offer, one that would take an ongoing burden off the shoulders of taxpayers. Children’s plans to work with downtown business owners, hospitals and governments to put the steam plant on a sound financial footing. Children’s would find a permanent owner or operator.
The hospital wisely has concluded that a functioning steam plant will save it the cost of building its own system, an option other customers would face if the current system failed. With the right vote in November, it will be up to the plant’s customers to decide what it is worth to them.