New Cumberland discussing water, sewer rate hikes

NEW CUMBERLAND – Municipal water and sewer customers in New Cumberland could soon be seeing their first rate increase in four years.

City officials say the proposed rate hikes are needed to keep the New Cumberland Water and Sewage departments solvent.

“Costs have gone up so much in the last four years. This is like a catch-up,” Ward 1 Councilman Will White said. “The companies will run a deficit without these increases.”

White, who worked with Mayor Richard Blackwell and the Water-Sewage Board to draft the necessary legislation, said the rate increases will raise, approximately, an additional $65,000 a year for the water department and an additional $25,000 a year for the sewage department.

Under the proposed rate plan, the minimum charge for water customers will increase by 75 percent – from $6.62 a month to $11.62 a month. The minimum charge covers the first 2,000 gallons used per month, White said. The minimum charge for sewer customers will increase by 16 percent – from $20.12 a month to $23.43 a month.

New Cumberland City Council, meeting in special session on Friday, passed the rate plan on a first reading but only after considerable debate.

Ward 2 Councilman Shawn Marks questioned the fairness of the plan, which initially did not include a rate hike on New Cumberland Heights customers. Residents of New Cumberland Heights actually are customers of the Hancock County Public Service District, but their sewage is treated by New Cumberland through a gravity-fed system.

The bulk treatment rate that New Cumberland charges the PSD brings in about $700 a month to sewage department coffers – a minuscule amount compared to what regular customer charges bring in, White said.

Marks said it was not fair for the plan to exclude New Cumberland Heights customers from the rate increase – a line of questioning that nearly derailed the sewage rate increase.

“I can’t in good conscience vote for raising the rate for some and not for others,” Marks said.

That led to a sometimes-heated discussion about whether New Cumberland Heights residents can be considered customers since they are not in the city and whether they should be charged a different rate.

When it came time for action by council, the vote was a 3-3 tie, with council members Pat Jones, Judith Bartley and Marks voting “no.” Blackwell broke the tie by voting “yes” but only “in the interest of moving this thing forward. We need to get something done here.”

Blackwell said he agreed with Marks about a rate increase for the PSD customers and that he’d be voting “no” on the second reading if the plan wasn’t changed. Ward 2 Councilman Arthur “Jack” Watson questioned why Blackwell would do such a thing, which prompted Blackwell to change his first-reading vote to “no,” defeating the plan.

Council then moved on to the water rate increase, which passed unanimously on a roll call vote.

Debate on the sewer rate continued, and White was able to get a motion passed asking council to reconsider the plan. White proposed increasing the bulk treatment rate for the PSD customers by 11 cents a month – from $3.39 per 1,000 gallons to $3.50. That measure passed unanimously.

Marks said he was satisfied with the compromise.

“All I’m asking for is a fair increase for everyone,” he said.

A public hearing and second reading on the water and sewer plans is scheduled for 5 p.m. July 8 in city council chambers. The plans also must be approved by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia.

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