Board approves fix for leaks

PARKERSBURG – The Parkersburg Utility Board voted unanimously Wednesday to give staff more discretion in discounting exorbitant bills faced by customers whose pipes froze and broke during the recent frigid winter.

“We had extreme cold that lasted for a long duration, so in that instance we had pipes (that) froze that normally would not have,” said Eric Bumgardner, assistant manager for the utility.

So far, about 30 customers have requested leak adjustments, citing frozen pipes that led to leaks which caused their water bills to soar. The highest rang up a $4,147.45 charge, utility board Comptroller Erin Hall said.

A leak adjustment from $5.44 per 1,000 gallons to 70 cents per 1,000 gallons above and beyond normal usage on a customer’s water bill is available, if they can show they took “reasonable precautions.”

That might not technically apply to some of the affected customers, if they didn’t take steps to prevent the problems in advance. But utility board Manager Eric Bennett said some of these breaks wouldn’t have happened if conditions had been more like the winters in the previous 12 or so years.

“Some lines broke in walls that are insulated,” he said.

Bumgardner cited one customer, a widow who receives a modest monthly pension, whose bill came in around $2,500 after a line broke in a crawl space at her home.

“She has no way to pay that,” he said.

Even after water that did not return to the sewer was written off the wastewater portion of her bill, the price was still around $1,500, Bumgardner said. Granting her the water adjustment as would lower her bill to between $150 and $180, when it’s usually about $50.

Board members voted 4-0 to give the staff additional discretion with leaks that resulted from the extreme cold, on a case-by-case basis.

Bennett said the adjustments won’t have a negative impact on the board’s finances because they involve excess water.

“We don’t set our rates thinking people are going to have huge leaks. Our rates are based on average consumption,” he said. “It’s not going to affect our financial bottom line, but some of those people, it’s going to have a drastic impact.”

Bumgardner noted affected individuals must prove they took steps to properly correct the problem before receiving an adjustment.

In other business:

* The board unanimously approved a payment of $162,526.50 on a $750,000 project to upgrade the motor controls on its wells.

* The board unanimously approved a sewer service agreement with the City of Vienna that includes one minor language change. Otherwise, terms remained the same. Vienna is still charged 17.5 percent of all capital projects and billed monthly based on its proportional share of wastewater processed.