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New Bath Town Council to face many issues

June 09, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

trishr@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Winning the position of mayor, town recorder or one of the five town council seats in the Town of Bath comes with a plate full of responsibilities.

Early voting ends Saturday and 86 of the town's 512 registered voters have cast their votes so far. Election Day is Tuesday.

The new council will take over July 1 with several big projects in the works.

The No. 1 project is the replacement of the town's leaky water pipes.

The town's leaking pipe system, which is about a century old, resulted in a 57 percent water loss in the last billing quarter, said Kevin Hancock, the superintendent of Berkeley Springs Water Works, the town-owned water department. About 98 percent of the pipes in town will be replaced, he said.

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In order to pay for the new pipes and their installation, a proposed 19 percent water rate increase was introduced by the council June 3. The state Public Service Commission (PSC) will not approve the project until the rate increase is accepted. Public meetings are scheduled June 13 and June 27 before the increase can be adopted by council.

Close to 1,500 customers receive water from Berkeley Springs Water Works.

"The town will be a mess for a while," Hancock has said.

Mayor Susan Webster said at the last town council meeting that the project was due to start in late summer and be finished next spring.

The town was awarded a $200,000 grant recently for streetscape improvements. Webster said the funds will be used for new lighting, sidewalks and crosswalk signage.

She said in council meetings that this project will be coordinated with the pipe replacements, and the town streets that need repair will be done along with new pipes and streetscape construction. Webster said there was no sense in tearing up the streets more than once.

Early fall is the busiest season in Berkeley Springs and is centered around the Apple Butter Festival, in early October on town streets. Once the projects begin, there will be construction annoyances for residents, business owners and tourists, and the council members will have to be ready to deal with complaints.

Other issues include:

n The pass-through traffic on U.S. 522, the main thoroughfare in town, continues to cause the town problems. Large trucks use U.S. 522 as the quickest route to Interstates 81 and 70.

To avoid U.S. 522, many local drivers are using the town's back streets, which were not designed to accommodate heavy traffic, and the town police department has installed four-way stop signs to help alleviate speeding. The council approved the stop signs and has discussed reducing the speed limit from 25 mph to 15 mph on some of the back streets. Most have no sidewalks.

Webster said the council agreed in May to seek federal, state and county assistance and to "proceed with haste" to build a four-lane, two-mile bypass around the town.

Webster has said "the town is bisected by U.S. 522 and cannot handle the amount of traffic through town."

She also said that in 2003 the town ranked 10th out of 171 towns of its size in the state in the number of automobile crashes.

"There were 161 towns that had less crashes than Bath did," she said.

n The town started the fiscal year 2004-05 with a $27,000 shortfall, and in the spring of 2004 the council proposed a Business and Occupation (B&O) tax on the three town banks. The business community voiced opposition against the tax, and when the council cast their votes of 3-3, the mayor broke the tie against the tax and it was defeated.

Citizens National Bank then hired a financial consultant to help the town, and steps have been taken to reduce budget problems. Garbage pick-up rates increased in October, town traffic fines and court costs also have increased.

The W.Va. Legislature passed a bill approving a 1 percent municipal sales tax, which was to become available to towns this July. However, the state accounting department cannot implement the new sales tax until a new computerized system is in place. It is anticipated the tax will go into effect after July 2006.

The town council will have to choose between the existing B&O tax it imposes on Allegheny Power or to implement the 1 percent sales tax when it becomes available. State law does not allow towns to impose both taxes at the same time.

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