Marlinton council approves water rate hike
Marlinton water rates soon could be among the highest in the state.
During its July 14 meeting, Marlinton council voted to raise the water rate for 1,000 gallons from $11.27 to $12.93, increasing the 4,000 gallon minimum charge from $45.08 to $51.72.
The council also voted to set the same rate for all customers, no matter the volume, eliminating the old system under which high-volume users paid less.
The rate changes are subject to Public Service Commission approval.
According to Mayor Dennis Driscoll, the increase was necessary to balance the water account budget, as required by state law. Driscoll said the town faced a state takeover if it was unable or unwilling to balance its water budget, which would result in a rate increase, anyway.
The town is currently ranked 378 out of 415 utilities in water cost, with 415 being the most expensive. The increase will bump the town's rates to number 397 out of 415, placing the town's water rates in the top five percent in the state.
Councilmember Joe Smith said council was "hoodwinked" prior to construction of the Brush Country water extension, when the town did not get binding contracts for water hookups.
"I'm totally against the rate increase - period," he said. "The reason I'm against it is -- the people of Marlinton got hoodwinked under this Edray water project. If those people had come online, like they said they were going to, and like they paid for a tap fee, we wouldn't have to raise the water rates of the in-town people and that's the reason it's being raised."
"We had 200-some people up there say they were going to take water and only 50 of them did. So, the people of Marlinton are going to suffer because the town council, at the time, got hoodwinked into approving a poor recommendation."
"I don't feel good about it, either," replied councilmember Norris Long. "But I know what we've got to do as far as operating."
Recorder Robin Mutscheller expressed the issue in practical terms.
"I guess what this council is faced with is - with the numbers that exist right now -ﾠ you have a choice to go into financial difficulty and lose your water system or you have a chance to go with the auditor's and our accountant's recommendation to change the rates."
Long said council had little choice.
"I don't think you're going to find one person on this council who really favors doing this," he said. "I believe that we're just in a situation where, as Robin said, we either have to take responsibility and cover our bills or we're going to be in trouble."
Councilmember Louise Barnisky said she was concerned about elderly residents on fixed incomes.
"I'm against it," she said. "I know there's too many retired, older people with only one person in the household and their water rates are going up."
"Do you have an alternative to raising the rates?" Long asked.
Long moved that council adopt the rate increase; councilmember David Zorn seconded and the measure passed 4-2, with Smith and Barnisky voting nay.
During the mayor's report, Driscoll informed council all physical work on the drainage and wastewater plant upgrade project was finished and that testing and cleanup are being performed.
The mayor praised the efforts of town workers for the cleanup after Pioneer Days. Councilmembers expressed their gratitude and compliments for a job well done.
Driscoll informed council that he had met with state engineers, who recommended blasting out drainage lines along Eighth and Ninth avenues. The mayor said he had contacted Able Construction to do the work.
After working out details with with county emergency services director Melvin Martin, council unanimously approved an expenditure of $2,600 to subscribe to the Code Red telephonic emergency notification system. The town and countyﾠ are splitting costs for the service, which will allow authorized town or county officials to quickly notify residents in the event of an impending flood or other emergency.
Council unanimously approved a contract with Potesta Engineering for an investigation to determine how to reduce phosphorus emissions from the town's sewage treatment system. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection reduced phosphorus limits for water discharge permit holders along the Greenbrier River in an effort to control severe algae blooms in the river.
Council unanimously waived a building permit fee for the Marlinton United Methodist Church, which will be making extensive masonry repairs to their church building. The council unanimously disapproved a request to waive the business and occupation tax for the construction work after Mutscheller reported it would violate state fair taxation laws.
Anna Landis, co-proprietor of newly-opened restaurant Rayetta's Lunchbox, told council that her garbage rate of $175 per month was excessive for her small restaurant.
Driscoll informed Landis that garbage rates are based on classifications and that all restaurants were in Class Six. Councilmember David Zorn suggested the possibility of adjusting the rates based on a restaurant's seating capacity.
Council agreed to have its solid waste committee meet and look into a more equitable system for small restaurants. The committee is composed of Zorn, Smith and councilmember Loretta Malcomb. Mutscheller reminded council that if it decreased rates for one restaurant, it would have to raise rates for others.
Council unanimously approved auctioning of the town's Chevy Impala police car by sealed bids. The auction will be advertised for two weeks in The Pocahontas Times. The vehicle is located at the town garage on Third Avenue (the former Coca-Cola plant) and can been seen by appointment. Council agreed to set the reserve price at trade-in Blue Book value.
In other business, council:
--unanimously voted to refer questions regarding Courtney Avenue ownership to town attorney Martin Saffer with an assertion that the town owns the property.
-- conducted the second and final reading of an updated floodplain ordinance and unanimously adopted the ordinance.
-- unanimously agreed to have town crews cut down Yew trees at Mountain View Cemetery's mausoleum.
-- approved a 1.5 percent to three percent cost-of-living pay raise for town employees, at a total annual cost of $5,039.84.
-- tabled action on construction of a handicapped-access ramp at the town water plant.
-- tabled action on placement of speed bumps in alleyways.
The next meeting of the Marlinton council is scheduled for August 11, 7 p.m. at the Municipal Building.