Water service rates increase for all customers approved at hearing

By Peggy Mackenzie

The Public Hearing and second reading of an ordinance increasing existing rates, charges and fees for water service for all customers of the City of Ronceverte’s Municipal Water System was read and passed at the Monday night, Feb. 3 city council meeting.

The goal of the project is to reduce unaccounted-for water that is being lost due to leaks throughout the water system.

A letter accompanied last month’s water bill explaining to residents the decision city council made, the necessity of the rate increase and the goal for the city and its residents: “The City needs two new water tanks, insertion of valves, and new water lines to reduce unaccounted-for water as mandated by the WV State Code, WV PSC and the WV Bureau for Public Health. We know we are losing 70 percent of our water to mostly unidentified leaks and we have two tanks that have aged out.”

The letter also related the effects of citizen protests in the past with petitions filed to the PSC in 2012, 2016 and 2019: “While their intent was to keep rates low, every petition added significant costs in the form of legal, engineering and accounting fees for the City. In 2012, the petition cost approximately $19,000. In 2016 the Citizens Petition added costs of over $33,000. In 2019, a petition cost over $41,000. Cumulatively, petitions have cost over $93,000 in the last eight years.” These costs will be spread among a total of approximately 950 water customers.

The petitions also cost the City a year in lost construction time. “Unaccounted-for water is our [main] problem,” Mayor David Smith stated. The Public Service Commission (PSC) has declared, “You have no choice but to go forward with the water project.” If a new petition is mounted, additional legal, engineering and accounting fees will require another rate increase, he said. The project will be delayed, but the leak problem will continue to exist.

The good news, Smith said, is the state has offered to provide the City with $6.2 million for the  project that will include $3.6 million in free grants and a loan of $2.6 million that includes $325,000 at one percent interest with a .25 percent administrative fee, and $2,275,000 at .75 percent interest with no administrative fee. This means more than 50 percent of the costs will be grant funded.

“The state has been very kind to our City with the amount of grant money offered and the rates on these loans. They are unheard of,” Smith exclaimed. “The state is really trying to help us.”

In other business:

  • The Ronceverte Volunteer Fire Department handed in their 2019 annual fire report as well as the January 2020 monthly report, which were welcomed by the council members. All remarked on the well-written entries, and included a notice of the re-election of Mike Campbell as fire chief. The attending volunteers said they will provide a detailed report on what they describe as much needed firehouse maintenance issues at the next finance meeting later this month.
  • Water Project leader Bob Hazelwood, representing the E.L Robinson engineering firm, stated an emergency surgery that took him off the job led to a month-long delay on the progress of the project, but he has sufficiently recovered to return to work.
  • Former Lewisburg Police Chief Tim Stover has begun making the rounds pitching his candidacy for Magistrate, Division I in the coming election set for May 12. He was at the meeting, extolling his accomplishments and handing out fliers.

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