Water rate hike may be on hold
The fate of a 20% water rate hike for nearly 1,600 Berkeley Springs Water Works customers is still uncertain, according to town officials. That increase had already been approved by the state Public Service Commission (PSC) in order to pay for the town’s $4.5 million water pipe upgrade.
But nearly half of the project’s cost was covered by federal stimulus money, so the town will only have to cover $2.5 million in debt. Council members have discussed whether they can or should put the 20% increase into effect, or if they can ask the PSC to recalculate a rate to cover the reduced project cost.
During the December 21 meeting, Mayor Susan Webster said town attorney Richard Gay advised her not to sign paperwork putting the 20% rate increase into effect just yet. The new rate was supposed to kick in as soon as the water pipe project was completed. The project was completed in November.
Webster said the council is especially interested in changing the proposed rates to balance residential and industrial water rates, since some business customers receive a substantial discount for using larger quantities of water.
“We want to see if that can be tightened up to make it more fair,” Webster said.
Town of Bath officials closed 2010 by setting up financing for some large expenditures, while also approving a pay bonus for town and water department employees.
Council members voted unanimously to back a motion by finance chair David Crosby to give a $150 holiday bonus to full-time employees and $75 to part-timers. Council-man Scott Merki said the bonus, which will cost $2,600 for all town and water works staff, was well-deserved but said “it’s not much.”
New billing system
Crosby also proposed the town accept a bid from Appalachian Software of Scott Depot, W.Va. to install new municipal and water company billing software. Crosby also suggested the town finance the $30,000 purchase through a leasing company. The deal will spread the cost over a year’s worth of payments, at a rate of 3.95% interest.
Town officials said they were more comfortable making monthly payments, even at an added total cost of $700 in interest, rather than take the total purchase price out of their cash reserves. The cost of the software will be split between the Water Works and the town – with the water department paying roughly 70%, or $21,000, of the computer system cost.
The system change should ease the billing duties of town employees and allow the water department to move to monthly billing of their customers, officials said.
Water manager Terry Largent has said the main advantage of monthly water billing is that it will reveal unusual water usage – usually associated with a leak – much earlier than quarterly billing.
The new billing system could be in use by April, town officials estimated.
Truck & roof
Other big expenses facing the town include the replacement of the water treatment plant’s roof and the purchase of a new dump/plow truck for the town. The roof replacement could cost up to $20,000 and the truck will cost the town $53,000. Despite its dual purpose as a town snow plow, the truck isn’t expected to be delivered until late February.