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City council, firm at odds over Martinsburg water project

March 09, 2001

City council, firm at odds over Martinsburg water project



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - No citizens appeared before the Martinsburg City Council Thursday night to complain about proposed water rate increases that would more than double rates for most users.

On the other hand, the council had some sharp words about the engineering firm overseeing the $25.5 million project.

Earlier this week, city leaders had been saying that rates would increases from $2.60 per 1,000 gallons for those who use the least amount of water - less than 8,333 gallons a month - to $6.75 per 1,000 gallons. The average customer who uses 4,500 gallons per month would face an increase of from $11.70 to $28.33 per month.

When Chester Engineering was calculating the new rates, it forgot to transfer the $515,668 Martinsburg had taken from a city surplus fund to help pay for the first phase of the two-phase project.

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As a result, council members unanimously voted Thursday not to pay a $21,000 invoice submitted by Chester for the first phase of the project.

The rate increase is needed to pay off bonds for the second phase of the project, which includes the construction of two water filtration plants and a 1.5 million-gallon storage tank, as well as installation of new water lines.

Three hours before Thursday night's meeting, city council members met to discuss whether they would have to adjust the rates again - adding another 10 cents to the lowest rate, making it $6.85 per 1,000 gallons. That would mean that elected officials already having to explain a huge increase to rate payers would have to explain an even larger one, they said.

"Thank the Lord this is not an election year," said Councilman Don Anderson.

Council members decided there was enough money left in the fund from which the $515,688 was taken to cover any future unanticipated expenses. Some officials said they weren't comfortable doing that, but it was a better solution than raising rates again.

Council members made it clear, however, they were angry about being put in the situation, and told officials from Chester Engineering repeatedly they wanted better results.

"This is very embarrassing," said Mayor George Karos.

Councilman Greg Wachtel said he wanted Chester to pay for its mistake by using $400,000 from the $2.4 million the company is being paid to oversee the project.

Officials for the company had little to say about the mistake, but agreed they would bear any costs needed to fix it, such as recalculating the amount.

It was unclear what was going to happen next in negotiations between the city and the firm.

The council voted Thursday to pay for the other bills associated with the first phase of the project.

The public will have a chance to comment on the proposed increases at a public hearing at 6 p.m. March 22 in the City Council chambers.

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