Johnstown residents voice various thoughts on dissolving water board

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CITY OF JOHNSTOWN — Residents shared mixed opinions on whether to dissolve the city’s water board with City Council members during a hearing held Monday evening. 

The meeting is part of the city government’s third attempt over the course of many years to get rid of the board and have the city’s water department oversee water operations. 

While a judge recently ruled primarily in favor of the water board in a lawsuit over who actually controls its bank accounts, the state Department of Health has indicated it recognizes the city as the controlling authority of the water system.

Of seven speakers, four, including at least two members of the water board, were in favor of keeping it, while the other three expressed their desire for it to be dissolved. 

The first speaker of the night was former Deputy Mayor Craig Talarico, who spoke in favor of the water board’s dissolution.

“What today’s water board is doing is basically the same as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he said. “They’re like the musicians in the same Hollywood movie who played music while the ship was sinking. A brave effort and maybe a calming effect on the doomed passengers but ultimately futile and feckless.”

Water board member Brandon Lyon refuted claims the water board hasn’t addressed issues over the years, pointing to the practices of past administrations that prevented the board from bonding for projects.

“This water board has been trying everything,” he said. “We have come up with plans to fix every single problem with our current water system and yet we’ve been met with complete and utter stonewalling.”

Lyons said the public hearing and eventual referendum was an attempt to save face rather than take responsibility.

Also speaking in favor of the water board was its President, Mike Capparello, who cited that city residents have already voted twice to keep the board. 

“I do not believe a third referendum is necessary,” he said. “I believe the residents of Johnstown have already previously spoken twice on this topic.” 

He said he hopes the city and the water board can just work together going forward and not have another costly referendum.

Other supporters said they haven’t had issues with the water board, so if it isn’t broken, then there’s no need to fix it. 

Resident Garry Locatelli isn’t sure whether to keep it or get rid of the water board. Regardless, he said he was sick of seeing the water board and the city council squabble over the years. 

“I am sure that the intentions of all those on the water board are to do what’s best for the city, but what qualifications do they have to make them competent to run a city water department?” he said. “Anyone can run and be elected to our water board, myself included, but I would have no idea what it entails in running the day-to-day operations of the Water Department.”

Mayor Amy Praught also provided brief comments, noting the lawsuit was against the prior administration and that the city would follow the rulings the judge handed down. 

“My responsibility as mayor is to protect the safety of all residents and the safety of the water system – this is paramount,” she said. 

By Shenandoah Briere

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