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Commissioners will wait to decide consolidation

May 25, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commissioners will wait another week to decide whether to consolidate the county's three water districts.

On Thursday, at a public hearing continued from May 10, advocates for the consolidation suggested doing it in phases, starting with two districts, then adding the third.

Commissioners Robert Burkhart and D. Wayne Dunham postponed their vote until Thursday, June 1, at 10 a.m., as part of their weekly meeting.

Commissioner John Wright was unable to attend Thursday's hearing, but had prepared a vote by affidavit.

Proponents of the merger are hoping to improve service through a countywide district. There are currently three separate water districts: Berkeley County, Opequon and Hedgesville.

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There is also a countywide sewer district, but few have spoken in support of including it with a combined water district.

Vincent A. Collins, an attorney with Steptoe and Johnson in Clarksburg, W.Va., told the commissioners that it makes sense to fold the Opequon and Hedgesville districts into the Berkeley County district because of how debt is structured.

Berkeley County's bonds are publicly owned, while the other two districts' systems were financed through government-owned bonds, he said.

At the May 10 portion of the hearing, Burkhart said he was not ready to vote without seeing a proposal for the structuring of the new district.

On Thursday, Bill Alexander, the director of the Hedgesville district and chairman of the consolidation committee, presented such a plan. It showed, among other things, the new organizational chart and who would hold each position.

David Ellis, the director of the utilities division of the state's Public Service Commission, said at the hearing that the merger probably would save customers money.

The Public Service Commission previously prepared a chart indicating the potential effect consolidation would have on rates in all three water districts.

Currently, the average monthly water rates are $15.60 in Berkeley County, $27.10 in Opequon and $24.70 in Hedgesville, the chart showed.

Under consolidation, the rates could become $22.50 in each of the districts, according to the chart.

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