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Weirton residents to have their say on planned water rate increase

WEIRTON — City council is set to take the next step in implementing a water rate increase aimed at keeping the city compliant with state utility regulations.

A public hearing on the rate increase, as well as the second reading of the rate increase ordinance, are on the agenda for Monday’s regular council meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. in the Weirton Room of the Millsop Community Center.

Although the city is moving forward with plans to update its water treatment plant, officials have emphasized the two issues are unrelated.

“This rate increase has nothing to do with the upgrade,” City Manager Joe DiBartolomeo explained during a council workshop held Tuesday.

There are three areas focused on as part of the rate increase, according to Mastrantoni. 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.

Other fees, charges or penalties are not being adjusted at this time.

A copy of the rate increase ordinance currently is available for review on the City of Weirton’s website, www.cityofweirton.com.

Utilities Director Butch Mastrantoni noted the increase stems from the passage of Senate Bill 234 by the West Virginia Legislature in 2015, where municipal utilities were mandated to maintain a budget account amounting to one-eighth of their operations and maintenance budget. Mastrantoni said state officials, though, realized time was needed to allow utilities to build up the account.

In February, he said, the West Virginia Public Service Commission opted to move ahead with the requirement, meaning the Weirton Area Water Board would need additional funding to build the SB234 account to its mandated point.

“In order to move forward, we have to comply with the law,” Mastrantoni said of the proposed water rate increase. “The city has no alternative but to comply. This is something you’re relegated to do.”

Mastrantoni explained the rate increase is projected to raise approximately $425,000 for the state-mandated account.

Ward 6 Councilman Enzo Fracasso, during Tuesday’s workshop, asked what would happen if the water board’s budget changes, with Mastrantoni explaining adjustments would need to be made.

Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh asked whether the board could simply take funding from some of its other accounts to meet the requirement, but Mastrantoni said he doesn’t believe they would be permitted to do so.

“All you’re doing there is a shell game,” he said.

Ward 2 Councilman Mike Adams said he understands the state is beginning to enforce the law, leading to the need for the increase.

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

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