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Martinsburg City Council approves water rate increase

March 23, 2001

Martinsburg City Council approves water rate increase



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


The Martinsburg City Council Thursday night unanimously approved increases that will more than double rates for city water users, but not before hearing from angry citizens, including one who is threatening to try to recall council members.

Most of the concerns were expressed about the effect of the rate increases on those with fixed incomes, especially older residents.

"We are the glue of Martinsburg," said city resident Shirley Gordon. "We are the old folks who keep this community together. Why are you trying to rape us? These are people who have been here for years, who will be here for years."

"You're putting it on the backs of these poor people," said John McDonald of the elderly and fixed-income residents. "The biggest increase is for the smallest user."

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City officials agreed the biggest percentage increases were for the smallest users.

The larger users will have a smaller rate because that's the way the state Public Service Commission requires them to set the rates, said Mayor George Karos. It's an issue of economy of scale, he said.

"The PSC is not doing what the public wants," McDonald said. "You are not doing what the public wants."

For the average user of 4,500 gallons a month, the rates will increase from $11.70 a month to $28.33 a month, based on a rate of $6.75 per 1,000 gallons. That's the same rate that will apply to those who use the least amount of water.

For those who use more than 33,000 gallons a month, the rate will be $4.72 per 1,000 gallons.

Lawrence Rivers argued that the small users are getting hurt.

"Big businesses that are using a lot of water should pay more because they are using a lot more," he said.

State environmental officials have required the city to put in a new water filtration system, a move the city fought, according to Karos. The work has begun and it's now time to raise the rates, Karos said.

"You fellows already have your mind made up," said James Unger, who said he is 70 and living on a fixed income of $800 per month. "I'll be getting up a petition" seeking removal of council members, he said. He said he plans to consult an attorney today to discuss how to do it.

"This is not a jump (in rates), this is a leap," said city resident Earl Snyder. "I can understand a fair, just increase. But we have to understand the effect this is going to have on those who can't pay."

Some residents asked what would happen if the city refused to make the improvements and increase the rates.

"We'd get fined and we'd still have to do it," said City Attorney Oakley Seibert.

The increased rates will take effect June 1.

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