Sewer board halts new billing policy so they can review it
The board of the Warm Springs Sewer System has delayed implementation of their new policy to bill owners of vacant houses, businesses or other structures on a monthly basis.
In a unanimous decision at a special meeting on Thursday, June 28, members decided to review the policy before starting to invoice customers for vacant structures connected to the sewer system.
The special meeting was precipitated by a complaint filed by the Bath Town Council with the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) opposing the new billing policy.
The PSC opened a case based on the town’s complaint on June 22 and instructed the sewer board to respond to the complaint within 10 days of receiving notification.
General Manager Rodney Hovermale instructed board members that they either had to do away with the policy or respond to the PSC by answering the town’s complaint.
Several people attended the June 28 meeting to voice opposition to the billing policy.
“Bath Council members believe it is fundamentally unfair to charge for a service not rendered. The added burden of the economic times made it a unanimous feeling of council to take the action we did,” Mayor Susan Webster said.
She asked the board to rescind or reconsider the billing policy.
Marvin Keener of Great Cacapon said he has a trailer connected to the sewer system that has been unoccupied for four years and is only used for storage.
“There is no well, no water, no electric — no utilities at all. I am asking for at least an exemption from paying this fee,” Keener said.
Though the trailer has been vacant for four years, Keener said he continued paying the sewer bill for two years before coming into the office and getting relief from the bill.
Lewis Braithwaite said he owns several rental properties and was also asked by Curtis Perry and Doug Sensel to also speak on their behalf against the policy.
“We are in a tight spot right now, those of us that have rental properties. Number one, trying to keep the properties rented and number two, of those that we do have rented, trying to collect our rent,” he said.
Braithwaite said they previously did not have to pay for utilities that were turned off.
“Now you are asking us to pay for a utility even though it is not being used,” he said.
Braithwaite said he moved his mother-in-law out of her house when his father-in-law passed away. Her house is now vacant and the utilities are shut off.
“Now you are going to turn around and ask me to pay a widow’s bill after she lost two-thirds of her income when her husband died,” he said.
Board members respond
“This isn’t something new. Other PSDs are doing it. It was actually recommended to us in the February training we attended at the PSC headquarters,” said board member Mike Jenkins.
He explained that if a dwelling is on well water, they have no way of knowing when a person moves in and starts using the system.
Board member Joyce Altomare suggested people with unusual circumstances might come into the office and the board could decide on a case-to- case basis.
Jenkins wondered if in Keener’s situation, whether the property could be condemned.
Webster said that opens up another set of problems for the owner. If the property is condemned, the owner won’t be able to get insurance, she said.
Board President Paul Zorich said the board had to decide how to respond to the complaint, even if all they decided was to review the policy.
Jenkins proposed that the board review the policy and no billing take place for the time being. The motion was seconded by Altomare and passed unanimously.
The next meeting of the Warm Springs Public Service District Board is on Wednesday, July 11 in the Morgan County Courthouse at 3:30 p.m.
Before discussing the billing policy, the board held an executive session to confer with their counsel, Attorney Barry Beck of Martinsburg, about a lawsuit brought by former employee Joyce Youngblood over retiree health insurance.