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Water problems in Martin have lingered too long

It seems many of the state’s smaller governmental agencies are having a hard time providing basic services to residents. The most glaring recent example is the Martin County Water District, whose troubles have left many in the county without water for extended periods of time.

A recent report in the Lexington Herald-Leader shows that the people responsible for oversight of the agencies share much of the blame.

Michael Schmitt, chairman of the Kentucky Public Service Commission, may have been trying to sound tough when he said “I can tell you right now, this stops. We’re going to fix it. This has gone on for years and years.”

You almost have to ask whether you read that right.

Did he really say “years and years” when talking about problems with water, the most basic and critical of services provided by government.

Schmitt knew the solution, one that should have been chosen “years and years” ago, when he warned that an outside agency could be placed in charge of day-to-day operations or a merger with a nearly utility could be forced. Why a merger wasn’t pushed before is hard to understand. One has to wonder if this problem would have been allowed to continue for “years and years” if Schmitt and others on the commission were living in Martin County and had to endure life without water.

It would be “days and days” more likely if the lack of water hit a little closer to home to the people in charge of taking care of all Kentuckians, including those in rural areas like Martin County. Schmitt called Martin “by far the worst water district in the state of Kentucky” and yet they are still operating and are being given yet another chance.

Schmitt criticized the district for failing to collect about $650,000 in overdue bills in a hearing where the Martin board was asking for an emergency rate increase of nearly 50 percent for its 3,500 customers. Martin water officials said without the increase the district will miss payroll and collapse. That doesn’t seem like a bad idea after “years and years” of poor performance.

We’ve had issues with water service in parts of Harlan County, problems that have also been allowed to go on for years and years because it seems the people in charge are more concerned with hurting the feelings of water district officials and board members than the residents they are elected to serve.

Here’s an idea for future water problems. Instead of waiting “years and years” to solve problems with something as serious as safe drinking water, let’s move ahead immediately with putting people in charge who know what they are doing and won’t let some residents go years without paying their bills.

We probably don’t need to go as far as reducing our counties in Kentucky to only 34, as has been suggested by legislators in a recent proposal, but it’s past time to start putting people ahead of political kingdoms too small or inept to handle the basic jobs of government.

Water is much too important to be used in political games.