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Residents lash out at berkeley Co. sewer officials

March 24, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - About 100 people gathered for a meeting Tuesday night of the Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District, expressing concerns over rates, hookup timelines, providing their Social Security numbers and problems with contractors.

The meeting, which began at 7 p.m., was still going on as 10 p.m. approached, although the standing-room-only crowd had thinned by then.

Bob Grove, chairman of the sewer district's board, led the meeting. Putting in the sewer is a public health requirement, he said. The project involves connecting approximately 2,100 customers in the southern end of Berkeley County to the public sewer system.

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Some of Grove's statements were greeted with a chorus of disagreement, including when he said contractors putting in the sewer lines put the pipes at the edge of property lines and that homeowners were allowed to suggest where the lines should go.

John Campbell, who lives in a development named Cardinal Crossing, said he asked that the sewer line be placed in the front of his property.

"They said, 'Fine, we'll put it in the back,'" Campbell said.

Others said they had the same problem.

All residents whose houses are located within 300 feet of the line must connect and pay a private contractor to hook them up to the system, Grove said. Some homeowners said they received letters in December or January telling them they had 30 days to connect.

With snow and other bad weather, finding a contractor was nearly, if not, impossible, many of those at the meeting said. Even though they were not able to hook up, they continued receiving $37 monthly bills, they said.

Previously only $7.01 was charged until a homeowner connected, but the state Senate passed a bill that gave the sewer district permission to increase the fee, Grove said.

When asked what homeowners could do if they could not find a contractor, Grove responded that options are few. "We have very little latitude," he said.

Several audience members said they should be given six months or a year to connect, but Grove said that would be unwise. If given six months, he said, everybody would wait six months, even though the district has bills to pay and needs the fees.

He later said the board would re-examine the issue.

The meeting was held in the sewer district's new building off Edwin Miller Boulevard. One man asked how the district paid for the building.

Grove responded that it was paid for using money saved after the sewer board hired an attorney. Loud laughter from most of the audience greeted that statement, with one person saying, "You expect us to believe that?"

Linden Heavner was one of several audience members opposed to the board's policy to ask for residents' Social Security numbers. In the era of identity theft, that information should not be required, he said.

Board members responded that they need that information to check with a credit reporting service. Some residents "skip town" without paying and are tracked down through such information, Grove said. If the board did not track those people down, bills would be even higher, he said.

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