Waterline extension questioned

WASHINGTON, W.Va. – Questions from the state Public Service Commission as to how the Lubeck Public Service District will finance a waterline extension in the Belleville area were discussed during Thursday’s board meeting.

Manager Randy Atkinson said the district’s plan was presented at a Tuesday meeting of the Infrastructure Jobs and Development Council funding committee.

“There was a lot of discussion and questions about the project but they ended up tabling it until their next meeting,” he said. “It was apparent they did not like the setup to charge a surcharge to the residents who will be served.”

If the project is funded, it will provide water service to about 200 families between Belleville and the Jackson County line.

Commissioner Jerry Martin said the district has used a surcharge to pay for projects in the past. He said the Public Service Commission always objects to the plans.

“They’ve always been against it,” he said. “But how can we do projects like this when we don’t have the funds; it doesn’t make sense.”

One customer, Pam Van Meter, said she agreed with the state’s objection to the plan because the surcharge is not fair. She said the problem is the district has failed to request rate increases over the years and the current flat rate of $29 is below the state average of $30 to $35.

Commissioner John Sines said Lubeck’s rates rank near the middle among all water utilities in the state, 151st out of 396 water utilities.

“This is from the Public Service Commission,” he said. “Among the water utilities the flat rate for 4,100 gallons of water runs from $2 to $121.”

Martin said the district has asked for rate increases but the state will not allow districts to have more than a certain amount of money in reserve. He said the last rate increase for the district was four years ago and the last request was made two years ago when the district asked for an increase of seven percent.

“We asked for seven percent and they said we needed an 11 percent increase,” he said.

Sines said the commission sets the rate despite what is asked for.

“The PSC decides the amount despite what we ask for ,” he said. “It can be higher or lower. It’s the same battle every time.”

Martin said the district’s accountant is working on three alternatives.

Van Meter said with rate increases those with the surcharge will see their bills increase dramatically. She said while the surcharge will stay at a set rate, the increases in the flat rate could make some bills as high as $60 to $65 a month.

Sines said the district will have the proposals for alternatives to finance the project from the accountant at the next meeting, which is set for 7 p.m. March 13.