Working together to find good government solutions | Opinion | Opinion

“Good government” comes in many forms, but none are more apparent than local officials who take the initiative to pursue more cost-effective solutions for their residents. Mayor Jack Bradley and officials from the City of Lorain contacted my office about a year ago to discuss potential solutions to rising water and sewer rates in the community. This was a proactive effort to seek opportunities and efficiency in a key area of city operations.

As the Auditor of State, it is my mission to ensure Ohio governments are working efficiently and effectively for those they serve. Our efforts are made with the public’s best interest in mind and I welcome any opportunity that may eventually help ease the financial burden placed upon Ohioans while maintaining or improving the services their municipality can provide.

After studying Lorain’s water and sewer rates and discussing concerns with city leaders, the conclusion was that a performance audit could provide the city with the analysis of cost-saving measures and operational recommendations that might start them down a better fiscal path for residents. Performance audits examine the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs and functions with the goal of finding improvements. They evaluate if funds are spent wisely and if programs achieve their intended purpose. Performance audits can be designed to increase customer satisfaction, reduce costs, align operations and strategy with the mission, or improve the operations.

Obviously water and sewer services are vital to any community and providing these facilities at a fair rate is an essential part of any well-run city.

The Ohio Auditor of State’s Ohio Performance Team conducted the performance audit with a focus on utility operations including water treatment and distribution, wastewater treatment and collections, and utility billing. They also reviewed staffing and compensation of utility workers, and the appropriateness of utility rates and fees.

Both state and federal laws and regulations can make water and sewer facilities a costly enterprise.

There are strict restrictions and requirements regarding how clean water is provided to residents and how wastewater is treated to ensure that Ohioans have access to these essential services.

I recently had an opportunity to visit Lorain and I sat down with Mayor Bradley to discuss the audit recommendations. Our audit found that Lorain’s current rates are high compared to peer communities, but are driven by the city’s relatively a high debt load and operations costs for its water and sewer systems.

We identified various areas for potential savings and cost reductions and made recommendations for the city to explore, including applying as much of newly provided federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) money to reduce water and sewer debt and/or system upgrade costs. Future actions should include options ranging from adjusting operations costs to formalizing financial policies and improving data collection to better understand costs and expenses.

Every local government can be shackled to the decisions made before them, it is how we navigate the challenges we face that often times separates each of us that chooses to serve. It was an encouraging conversation with the mayor as we all agree that a sustainable, cost-efficient resolution is the best path forward in regards to the high water and sewer rates. It is apparent that the mayor and community leaders understand the challenge they face and are seeking the best possible options, but as usually the case, there is no single silver bullet that will fix the aging system. Seeking the performance audit showed leadership; the hard part now is to make the tough decisions necessary to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the systems.

I know the people of Lorain are hardworking, take pride in their city, and want their community to thrive.

By working together and acknowledging where there are areas for improvement, you will find the solutions that will allow good government to be successful in Lorain.

Another viewpoint is a column The Morning Journal makes available so all sides of an issue may be aired. Keith Faber is the auditor of the state of Ohio.

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