On Tuesday, Akron voters have an opportunity to escape a mounting financial burden. They can do so by approving Issue 4 on the ballot, a proposed charter amendment that would transfer ownership of the city’s troubled steam utility system to Akron Children’s Hospital.
The past six years, the city has poured $28 million into the heating and cooling plant that serves roughly 50 downtown customers. In 2010, the city asked voters to allow for a lease arrangement with a private operator. Voters rejected the idea.
Why not just close the operation? Those downtown customers depend on the system. Children’s, now moving forward with a $200 million expansion, has looked at the possibility of building its own steam plant. It found the better path involves exploring ways to make the current utility work financially. That also goes for Akron General Medical Center, another leading user.
Children’s isn’t simply coming to the rescue. It has made a practical business decision, a process voters can advance by giving their approval, allowing for the necessary flexibility.
The city wouldn’t be losing much, the steam utility playing the money pit. What would benefit downtown, and the city as a whole, is Children’s and the other customers having a measure of command. They value the heating and cooling system. They can begin to shape the plant’s future — once voters say yes in what should be an easy call.