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Water rate hike likely in Martinsburg

June 10, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Public Service Water District, which said it buys more water from the City of Martinsburg than any other single customer, will not formally protest the city’s proposed water rate increase.

Paul S. Fisher, the county utility’s executive director, said Monday that the water district buys about 230,000 gallons daily as part of arrangements that were made several years ago to address county supply needs at the time.

The Martinsburg City Council on Thursday is scheduled to hold a public hearing on its proposal to increase water rates by about 20 percent.
 
The hearing is scheduled to be held at the beginning of the city council’s regular monthly meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in the J. Oakley Seibert Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 232 N. Queen St.

Later in the meeting, the council is expected to read for a third and final time — and then vote on — an ordinance that proposes to increase the water rates. 

The average monthly bill for city residents who use 4,000 gallons would increase from $25.36 to $30.44, if the ordinance is put into effect Oct. 1, as proposed. The council previously adopted a separate ordinance earlier this year to increase sewer rates, but that increase is not slated go into effect until 2015.

City Manager Mark Baldwin has said the water rate increase is needed to cover the city utility’s debt service bond payments and operations and maintenance costs. The last adjustment to the city’s water rates was made in 2006.

If approved, the residential bill for 4,500 gallons used would increase to $39.26, the water district has said.

Much of the increase requested is due to the need to refinance debt, including about $12 million in financing that was being paid off with capacity improvement fee revenue. The fees had been collected since 2005 for most new water connections, but the state Public Service Commission ruled in May 2012 that the county could no longer collect the money.

Fisher said the state Public Service Commission allows for the water district to pass the city’s rate increase onto the county’s customers, but any increase would amount to “pennies.”

The city’s proposed increase comes less than six months after the county filed a petition with the state Public Service Commission to increase their rates by a total of 19.5 percent.

Fisher said a decision from the state on the county’s request might not come until the end of October.

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