PUB to examine councilman’s pay suggestion

PARKERSBURG – Mayor Bob Newell said Wednesday the Parkersburg Utility Board could consider a city councilman’s suggestion to hold employees’ wages to the same increase as city employees in light of a requested rate increase.

“I suspect it’ll be discussed at some point,” said Newell, the chairman and a non-voting member of the utility board.

The board met Wednesday morning at its administrative offices on 19th Street, the day after Parkersburg City Council’s Finance Committee voted 3-2 to send a proposed rate increase to the full council for consideration. Board member Ed Glasser said he was pleased with the account he read in the morning’s newspaper of manager Eric Bennett’s presentation to the committee.

“You did a good job,” he said. “I just wish there was a way we could get to some of these council people the importance of what we’re doing and the consequences.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bennett and city bond counsel John Stump told council members the hikes in the base customer rate and volume charge per 1,000 gallons are needed to keep up with inflation, finance state- and federally mandated improvements to the wastewater treatment system and maintain required coverage of the utility board’s financial obligations.

Failure to complete the system upgrades in time could result in hefty fines from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Not having the financial coverage, which includes a “cushion” equivalent to 20 percent of the board’s maximum debt service, might lower the city’s bond rating, increasing costs when borrowing money.

Some council members have balked at the increase – which would be nearly 30 percent over four years for a customer using 4,000 gallons of water a month – and said the board should propose a smaller increase while cutting its own budget.

Councilman John Kelly said the board could save money by not tying raises to the federal cost-of-living index.

The increase approved by the PUB for the current fiscal year was 1.7 percent, which averaged 27 to 32 cents an hour, Bennett said. Parkersburg non-civil service employees received a 70 cents-an-hour raise, with firefighters getting an extra $1 an hour and police $2 an hour.

However, in 2012, the cost-of-living adjustment was nearly 3.6 percent, so PUB employees’ raises generally exceeded the 20 cents an hour city employees received.

Board Vice Chairman John Lutz noted a study of the board’s salaries found they were comparable to other utilities in the state, albeit on the low end.

Newell noted the utility board is an autonomous entity and separate from the city, although council must approve its rate increases.

Discussion of salaries for the upcoming fiscal year would take place after city council approves Parkersburg’s budget, Bennett said. Newell plans to present his budget proposal to council on Feb. 11, while the PUB budget process won’t begin until May.

The first reading of the rate increase will be considered by council on Jan. 28. The second reading, and a public hearing on the issue, would come two weeks later.