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Water rate hike is proposed for Berkeley Springs

June 04, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

trishr@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - A special meeting was held Friday by the Bath Town Council on a proposed 19 percent water rate increase by Berkeley Springs Water Works, the town-owned water department.

The increase of 19 percent would raise an average water bill $7 per quarter, Mayor Susan Webster said. Berkeley Springs Water Works Superintendent Kevin Hancock said an average quarterly bill that is now $46 would be $53 with the increase.

Two special meetings on the proposal will be held June 13 and 27. Both meetings will be at 5 p.m. at Town Hall.

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The increase in water rates would pay for the waterline replacement cost of $1.85 million. Webster said two 30-year loans have been approved to pay for the upgrade - $600,000 from the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council and $1,250,000 from the West Virginia Bureau of Health.

Webster said the rate increase specifically is for the pipe replacement project.

Hancock said 57 percent of the water is being lost through the old leaking pipes. He said "we need to move forward as fast as possible because the costs will skyrocket. The cost of fuel and the cost of construction will go way up."

Hancock also said the water department's operation costs are skyrocketing because of the water leakage.

He said 98 percent of the pipes will be replaced.

"There will be a mess in town for quite a while," Hancock said.

Finance Chairman David Crosby said the price to replace the pipes "will cost more the longer we wait." He said he is not enthusiastic about raising the rate.

"We simply don't have a choice," Crosby said.

A resolution unanimously was accepted by council members to start the process toward developing a flat water rate called an incline block rate.

Webster said Public Service Commission engineer Audra Blackwell suggested the town "go with the 19 percent rate increase now and work immediately with the PSC" toward getting the incline block rate.

Webster said the PSC "has never dealt with an incline block rate, and it will take a long time to get it in place for us to use."

The rate structure West Virginia towns use is called a decline block rate, in which a larger water user pays less per gallon than a more modest user, Webster said.

With a flat or incline block rate, the cost per gallon of water will be the same for everyone, she said.

"I would be proud to be the first in West Virginia to adopt such a system," Webster said.

Also, council members unanimously approved a resolution to obtain an interim financing loan of $400,000 from Citizens National Bank in Berkeley Springs.

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