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Water rate increase gets early approval

March 19, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - A first reading of a water rate increase ordinance that would pay for the upcoming $4.5 million water line replacement project was approved by the Bath Town Council.

At Tuesday's meeting, Bath Mayor Susan J. Webster said the new rate would not go into effect until the project is finished. The 11-month project is to begin in August and is to be completed in July 2010.

"This is to satisfy the debt service," Webster said of the rate hike, which will affect Berkeley Springs Water Works customers.

Before the ordinance is passed, a public hearing and second reading is required. They will occur at the next council meeting on Tuesday, April 7 at 6 p.m. at the municipal center on Wilkes Street.

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Finance committee chairman and Councilman David Crosby said the rates most likely would go into effect in the last quarter of 2010 and would appear on the January 2011 bill.

The new rate for the first 6,000 gallons used per quarter is $16.14 per 1,000 gallons. The minimum charge per quarter is $96.84 for 6,000 gallons, according to the ordinance.

Webster said on Wednesday the current minimum bill of about $84 per quarter would increase by about $12. That rate went into effect on Oct. 18, 2008, and will be reflected on the April bill.

Webster said the flat rate of $8.77 per 1,000 gallons the council voted for last year that "addressed conservation, fairness to customers and would pay the debt service" for the $4.5 million, was denied by the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC), "and the ordinance that was forced on us did not address these three issues."

She said in order for the water line replacement project to begin, which is called Phase 2, a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity is needed from the PSC. As part of the application process, the PSC will need to review the new rates to see how the project cost is covered.

Webster said a loan of $3.3 million at 1 percent interest from the Drinking Water Treatment and Research Fund, and a $1.2 million loan from the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council at no interest have been secured for Phase 2.

However, the project was included as part of the state's "shovel ready" stimulus package, and if the project is accepted, the cost would decrease.

"If we're lucky to receive grant money, we can change the rates," Webster said.

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