Utility board proposes rate increase

PARKERSBURG – The Parkersburg Utility Board says to continue providing water and sewer services, the cost of those services must increase.

Eric Bennett, manager of the Parkersburg Utility Board, presented recommended increases to the city’s sewer rate Tuesday to the City Council Finance Committee.

In a written report presented to the Public Works committee Tuesday, Bennett said issues with costs and revenues have created the need for increased rates.

“We would like to reiterate that with increases in the costs of goods and services and decreases in revenue due to the loss of some large-volume customers and changes in usage habits by most customers, and in order to property maintain and make necessary capital improvements to the sewer system we need to increase current revenue levels,” Bennett said in the report.

The last sewer rate increase was approved in 2004, and the final step of that increase was put into place in 2008. In 2010 members of Parkersburg City Council approved a three-year water rate increase. Beginning July 1, 2010, customers saw an increase of $6.13. July 2011, a second $3.25 increase kicked in. In 2012, the rate went up $1.80.

Tuesday’s proposal would increase sewer rates from $14.35 to $18.63 in annual increments over the next four years to help fund improvements and service. The change is about a 9 percent increase on a monthly bill for the first year and a 6 percent fee increase on monthly bills each year for the next three years.

Other fees also would be increased for certain customers.

For example, the connection fee would increase from $300 to $400. The department’s returned check fee also would increase to $32. The utility board would add a surcharge calculation for storm-water-related flows when a customer fails to remove them from the sanitary sewer system following proper notification.

Bennett said state and federal stormwater regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency have increased costs significantly for the utility, and the board is required to have changes in place in 2016 and meet all regulations by 2020.

The finance committee took no action Tuesday, but plans to further discuss the requested increases at an upcoming meeting. Councilman John Kelly, who is not a member of the finance committee, spoke out against the proposal, saying it would place too much of a burden on residents already hit hard by economic troubles.

“A 27-percent increase over the next four years is a little too much for people to handle,” he said Wednesday. “Parkersburg is still in a down economy, and as such this is not the time to raise taxes, it’s not the time to raise fees.”

Kelly pointed to the city’s senior citizen population who live on a fixed income, to drops in tax collections for the city and county and to more than half of the county’s students qualifying for federal free- or reduced-price meal programs.

“Those are all indicators of a down economy,” he said.

Kelly said he was sympathetic to the utility board’s needs and financial obligations.

“They do have some federal mandates that they are going to have to meet, and to meet those they are probably going to have to do some rate increases,” he said. “I understand that. It’s part of doing business.”

“I just think 27 percent is too much.”