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Weirton City Council approves water rate increase

WEIRTON — City Council on Monday approved the final reading of a water rate increase, which city officials say will put the Weirton Area Water Board in financial compliance with a law enacted by the West Virginia Legislature five years ago.

There are three areas of the water rate structure being affected by this increase.

The commodity rates, for customers with metered water supplies, would increase from $5.50 per $1,000 gallons to $7.02 per 1,000 gallons. The customer charge for all metered connections is increasing from $6.26 per month to $7.99 per month.

As a result, the minimum monthly bill, estimated by adding the commodity rate and the customer charge, will increase from $11.76 per month to $15.01 per month.

The increase will go into effect Sept. 24.

Utilities Director Butch Mastrantoni noted the rate increase is for the city to meet the requirements of Senate Bill 234, which was enacted by the state in 2015.

“It is not, in any way, to be construed as funding any water improvement, as was discussed,” Mastrantoni said, referencing proposals to expand the city’s existing water treatment plant.

SB 234 requires municipal utilities to create a separate budgetary account to contain one-eighth of their total maintenance and operational budget. Initially, cities were provided time to phase in the account, but Mastrantoni said the state Public Service Commission, in February, opted to put it into effect this year.

Prior to Monday’s regular meeting, where the rate increase was approved 6-0, council held a public hearing, during which three residents spoke on the proposal.

Jack Wood, 310 Colliers Way, expressed concern on the language of the ordinance, in particular noting the use of the term “debt service” as he felt that meant the funds from the rate increase could be used for other purposes.

Steve Psaros, 306 Old Colliers Way, requested the city send all water customers a letter fully explaining the purpose of the rate increase, as he feels there has been confusion even among council.

“I believe the explanation needs to be cleared up,” he said. “It should have been done months ago.”

Jim McHenry, 146 Patterson Road, expressed confusion as to why it took five years for the city to address the issue, questioning the transparency of city officials on the issue.

“If it’s necessary, put it out there so people know what it’s for,” McHenry said. “Stop being so cloudy.”

As part of discussion during the regular council meeting, Ward 4 Councilman George Ash said he took offense to inferences the city was not being transparent, noting several meetings held on the issue which were open to the public, and various news reports.

“I know we’ve done what we’re supposed to do,” Ash said.

City Manager Joe DiBartolomeo explained, in addition to the public meetings, multiple legal advertisements were published on the rate increase, and the ordinance had been posted for review on the city’s website.

He said the increase is not something on which the city has a choice.

“It’s got to be done by the council,” DiBartolomeo said. “It’s a compliance issue.”

Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh, however, did note, in his 13 years on council, he has never seen budgets for the Weirton Area Water Board or the Weirton Sanitary Board, saying he feels council should be able to have the information. He noted the water board now counts two members of council among its numbers, with Mayor Harold Miller chairing the sanitary board.

Both Miller and Ash said it wouldn’t be a problem.

(Howell can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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