At Ronceverte’s Monday night council meeting, City Administrator Reba Mohler presented an itemized report detailing the costs of a petition filed against the city in the amount of $32,654.34. The petition, initiated in opposition to a water rate hike, paradoxically brought additional requirements and costs that must be spread among all Ronceverte’s water customers, Mohler said.
The petition was filed by a group of senior citizens on fixed incomes after city officials narrowly approved a water rate hike last March, which promised to more than double rates within five years. Citing “undue hardship on individual as well as business customers,” the petitioners asked the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) to intervene on their behalf.
The PSC staff recommended that the city be ordered to raise the rates more modestly, but the recommendation was only slightly less than what was called for in the city’s ordinance. Additionally, the judge ordered that the city must greatly improve on water losses, piling yet another expense the city must eventually pass onto water customers.
The net result is the petition saved customers $6.12, but also cost customers $32.65, incurring a net loss of $26.53 per customer. The 247 fixed-income petitioners represented 25 percent of the customers in the system. “This means the remaining 753 customers that did not sign the petition will also have to bear the cost of the petition,” Mohler said.
“It is unfortunate,” Mohler said, “that the very people the petitioners wanted to protect, those on fixed incomes who use the minimum amount of water each month, were affected most by the petition.”
The disputed ordinance calls for the minimum monthly charge for 1,000 gallons to increase from the current rate of $15.38 to $21 during the first step of a five-step plan that would culminate in June 2019 with a minimum charge of $33.
Water woes have long plagued the River City. Hundred-year-old leaking pipes and outdated or missing maps of their locations are the root causes. Mohler said unaccounted for water losses are part of the city council’s monthly reports, with last month’s loss reported as “down” to 54 percent.
The remedy for the situation, and the reason for the ordinance, was to install more valves throughout the system, so that, eventually, the leaks would be isolated and resolved. The technology is there to meter off sections, but the cost for each section is $10,000.
Mohler said five to six valves could have been installed with the (petition) money. Those funds would have enabled the city to shut off certain areas when leaks occur and would greatly reduce the number of boil water events. Valves also help to isolate leaks and make them more easily identifiable. Instead, the money was spent on legal, accounting and engineering fees relating to the petition, said Mohler.
Mayor David Smith agreed that the water loss problem mentioned in the PSC staff memo needs to be addressed, but he said it’s more complicated – and expensive – to accomplish than most people know.
In other business:
• The vacant structure code passed on its second reading. For any building posing violations, such as fire hazards, occupancy by transients, safety and public health issues, the owner must register for a vacant structure permit at no charge for the first year. If there are no improvements made to the structure by the following year, a fee of $200 will be charged. Fees will continue to double each year thereafter, if improvements are not made.
• The first reading of a building permit ordinance was approved. A penalty to fail to obtain a building permit would result in a doubling of the fee or a charge of $100. Smith said the main purpose is to protect homeowners from slipshod workmanship from unlicensed contractors. He said the permit requirement is not the same if relatives are doing the construction or repairs on a property.
• City Hall will be closed on Nov. 24-25 for Thanksgiving.
• The theme for the holiday dinner in support of the Ronceverte Library is Yuletide Dinner 1882. The annual event will be held on Dec. 1 at the Edgarton Inn Bed and Breakfast. Tickets are limited to 100, and guests are asked to call the Ronceverte Library at 304-647-7400 for reservations at one of the three scheduled seatings. The first seating will be at noon, the second at 5 p.m. and the third at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 each.
• The Ronceverte Community Christmas Dinner will be held on Dec. 3, from 11 .am.-2 p.m., at the Trinity United Methodist Church. The event is free and the community is welcome.
• The Ronceverte Christmas Parade will be on Monday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m.
• Donations are still needed for Ronceverte’s Christmas outdoor lights, which were lost during the flood. Donations so far are at $3,000, with a goal of $25,000. Please address your checks to Main Street Ronceverte to insure a “cheery downtown Ronceverte” this holiday season, Smith urged.