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Berkeley County water consolidation nears fruition

February 27, 2001

Berkeley County water consolidation nears fruition



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County officials are probably a few weeks away from creating the largest water district in the state.

That was the sentiment of the Berkeley County Commission, officials of the three existing water districts and others who met Tuesday to begin putting the finishing touches on the merger of the districts.

Vince Collins, the attorney who handles bonds issued by the Berkeley County Public Service District, said the kinks have just about been ironed out of the consolidation.

"It's my belief the merger can easily occur before July 1, 2001," Collins said. That's the date the commission and the state have set for the merger to be complete, Collins said.

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The idea is to merge the Berkeley County Public Service District with the Hedgesville and Opequon public service districts, providing coordinated service for clean water. The plan was proposed after the drought two years ago, when some areas of the county were short of water while others had a surplus. The plan would enable water to be dispensed by one public body. It would serve more than 11,200 customers.

"In the history of Berkeley County, there is nothing as great or as vital as what is happening now," Commissioner John Wright said. "With clean water, people in this county will be protected from many things. I have seen nothing happening here comparable to this."

Added to a new sewer system that is being built from north to south in the county, the water system will help clean up dirty water problems that plague the area, Wright said.

"The taxpayer and the fee payer will be getting what they pay for," he said.

Officials stressed that water rates will not rise because of the merger. Figures provided by the state show increases in the rates, but that's because of plans already in place to upgrade the system, said Wayne Dunham, former County Commission president and a member of the Water Advisory Committee that likely will be appointed to oversee the new district. The cost of those plans is figured into future rates.

The Berkeley County Public Service District, which serves the southern part of the county, is working with Martinsburg on plans to upgrade city facilities. That will increases costs, but has nothing to do with the merger, he said.

Another issue of concern to the districts is the security of the $17 million in bonds already issued by the three districts for water improvements. Companies representing bond holders want to be sure the new system will produce enough money to pay the bond holders.

Tom Wagoner, a utilities analyst supervisor for the state Public Service Commission, said the new system will provide more than enough money to pay the bonds.

Bond holders like to be sure a public utility has 100 percent of the money coming in to pay the bonds, plus 15 percent more. The new system will produce 24 percent more, he said.

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