More opposition to sewer bill policy
The board of Warm Springs Public Service District heard arguments against the proposed new billing policy at their regular meeting Wednesday afternoon, July 11.
That policy, if implemented in its present form, would bill owners of vacant homes, businesses and dwellings connected to the sewer system the full minimum monthly charge.
Ten people, including customers, town officials and interested citizens, turned out for what is normally a sparsely attended meeting.
When board president Paul Zorich came to the agenda item concerning billing vacant properties, the meeting quickly took on the appearance of a public hearing.
Town of Bath reacts
Town of Bath Mayor Susan Webster asked the board to rescind the policy.
“This policy is just fundamentally unfair for people to be forced to pay for a service that isn’t rendered to them, particularly in the hard economic times that we have,” she said.
“The town plans on carrying forward with whatever we need to do to keep it from happening,” Webster added.
The Town of Bath filed a formal complaint with the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) on June 22. In response to that complaint, the board decided at a special meeting held on June 28 to review the billing policy prior to implementing it.
Webster said other utilities, water, electric and telephone for instance, don’t charge when their services are not in use.
“The bill that you pay is not what it costs us to treat your sewage for 30 days. You are paying for your spot in the plant,” Board member Mike Jenkins said.
“This sewer service is unique. You look at it as a utility, but it is unique in itself. It is a service that you sign up for and every time we make a move or want to make a move to change what that agreement is, we have to go back to the Public Service Commission.”
Others speak out Marvin Keener of Great Cacapon informed the board that he has a trailer connected to the sewer system that has been unoccupied for four years and is only used for storage.
Keener said the electric service and well water have been disconnected from the trailer. He asked for an exemption.
“I can’t afford another $700 a year for something that is not being used,” he said.
Board member Joyce Altomare said, “I think we need to have a policy that recognizes exceptions.”
Zorich suggested people can use the existing channels, referring questions to the utility commission (PSC) or bringing them before the board.
Robert Barney of Station Road said if his tenant moves out without paying the sewer bill, he has to pick up that bill and any other bills the tenant leaves unpaid.
“You all are getting your money. Where do I get mine? I lose in rent money and yet you want me to go and pay your bills? We were forced onto the system in the first place and we did pay our connection fee. But now you are adding insult to injury,” he said.
Policy not well thought out
“It seems to me you have crafted a policy that really is a true and admirable attempt to reduce your debt. But it seems to be not well thought out in its policy provisions,” Berkeley Springs resident Dean Maxwell said.
He asked if the board has thought about what they would do in a situation where a property owner only lives here part of the year and shuts the house up for months.
Or the case of a home that has been purchased and needs to be completely gutted and remodeled over the course of a year or so before it can be lived in.
“These two particular questions that I just posed to you should be questions that precede your policy development process,” Maxwell said.
He said he felt issues such as these should be addressed in a working group “so you can set out a policy that fully answers a multitude of these possibilities and so that you don’t have ad hoc decisions coming across after you craft a policy.
“I am not against you guys. I think as a community we appreciated having a sewer service. But there is great anguish about paying money for something you are not getting,” Maxwell concluded.
Cash flow problems
General Manager Rodney Hovermale said the District has gone from having 1,508 customers down to 1,433.
Jenkins explained the recent rate increase approved by the PSC was based on a test year, 2009, that used the higher number of customers. He said the District is losing approximately $3,600 a month in revenue the new rate increase will not cover.
“We have lost customers but our expenses have not gone down. They have gone up like everything else. Our employees have not gotten a raise in three years,” Altomare said.
Jenkins motioned to table the review of the billing policy until next month’s meeting. Zorich seconded the motion.
“I am really not fond of the policy at all. I do understand that we do need to have it. I do understand there are a number of rental properties and it’s not our problem if they can’t keep them filled with tenants. I am sympathetic, but with that said, I am not going to vote for the motion,” Altomare said.
She explained she would vote for the motion if it included Maxwell’s suggestion of forming a working group to help review the policy.
Zorich then called for a vote and it passed 2-1 with Altomare opposed.
“I would like to suggest that if you are attending today and you have a personal interest, that you put your thoughts in writing to our general manager,” Altomare said.