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Berkeley County water district merger put off

May 11, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commissioners will wait until at least May 25 before deciding whether to consolidate the county's three water districts.

A public hearing on the proposal was held Wednesday night, but no action was taken.

Commissioner John Wright called for a swift decision on a topic that he said has languished for a year.

Commissioner Robert Burkhart, however, said he needs information, such as how a combined district would be structured and who would oversee it.

At their weekly meeting Thursday, the commissioners decided to reconsider the idea on May 25. Discussion will be limited to one hour, they said.

Consolidation proponents say a merger of the Berkeley County, Hedgesville and Opequon public service districts would increase efficiency and save money.

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"It's important to connect all of the water services in Berkeley County," said Bill Alexander, the director of the Hedgesville district and chairman of the consolidation committee. "It's to everyone's advantage."

Opponents argue that costs will rise, and have called on the County Commission to keep the water systems as they are, or to combine only two of the three.

The Berkeley County Public Service District's board opposes the three-way consolidation, but Berkeley County is in favor of a proposal to merge with Hedgesville, according to a Berkeley County Public Service District resolution.

At Wednesday evening's hearing, Howard W. Collins of the Berkeley County Public Service District said that district has been commended for its service and should continue to operate on its own.

If the three districts were combined, the rate in the Berkeley County district "would probably double" because residents there would take on additional debt, Collins said.

Dan Campbell, also of the Berkeley County Public Service District, said the Opequon district has greater debt than Berkeley County district does.

The Opequon district, also opposed to full consolidation, wants to merge Hedgesville only, according to speakers at the hearing.

Representatives from the Eastern Panhandle Home Builders Association, the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce and the Berkeley County Development Authority were at the hearing to offer support for consolidation.

Chamber of Commerce President Berniece Collis said the merger would improve service and management. It is currently "counterproductive" when water districts argue over additions near their boundaries, she said.

A few residents spoke out against the idea, including one woman who said, "Don't take yet another piece of our independence away."

"In the south end, we don't want to pick up the tabs," said Edgar Mason, who lives in south Berkeley County.

Burkhart said his main concern is providing "the best quality (of water) at the least amount of money," he said.

A water system project separate from the proposed merger also has created debate.

Berkeley County and Hedgesville are in favor of a plan to link the Hedgesville district with the city of Martinsburg's water system along Interstate 81.

But officials with the Opequon district, which now sells water to Hedgesville, say it's not necessary and have protested.

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