PUB measure going back to council

PARKERSBURG – A bond issue to purchase new vehicles for the Parkersburg Utility Board is headed back to City Council, after it failed to come to a vote two weeks ago.

Council’s Finance Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to send to council the measure authorizing the issuance of up to $1 million in bonds to purchase a dump truck, three pickups, two backhoes and a jet-vac truck for the utility. At the June 10 council meeting, Councilman Jim Reed moved to approve the first reading of the ordinance, but no one seconded it.

After that meeting, Councilman Roger Brown and Councilwoman Sharon Lynch said they did not second the motion because they didn’t want to see the utility board, an autonomous entity whose rates must be approved by council, take on more debt after sewer rates were increased earlier this year. Reed is chairman of council’s Finance Committee and placed the item on Tuesday’s agenda so it could be considered for a return to council.

“You got a 22 percent rate increase and you said you could get the job done,” Brown said to PUB Manager Eric Bennett during Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting.

“We’re not asking for a rate increase,” Bennett said.

Bennett said the new vehicles would be covered by the existing rates and would not interfere with planned repairs and projects.

The PUB could have acquired the vehicles through individual lease-purchase agreements, which would not have required council approval, Bennett said. However, putting them all together is expected to give the utility a lower interest rate – around 2 percent instead of 4 percent, said John Stump, bond counsel for the city and the PUB.

Councilman John Kelly asked what Stump’s services on the bond issuance would cost. Stump replied it would be about $20,000, equal to the expected savings for one year on the bond issue versus individual lease-purchases.

Once the ordinance is approved, the PUB will ask for bids for the equipment to get a total cost, then request proposals from banks for the bonds. A shorter duration would likely yield additional savings.

“We will ask for five- and 10-year proposals, but our intent is to do five years,” Bennett said.

The vehicles to be replaced range in age from 12 to 20 years and have high mileage or usage, Bennett said. They would be moved into a backup role, while even older vehicles would be auctioned off or used for trade-in.

The committee – whose members are Reed, Lynch, Council President John Rockhold and Councilwomen Kim Coram and Nancy Wilcox – agreed to send the measure back to council.

“Those of us who weren’t smart enough to ask questions last (time), have we asked them all this time?” Lynch said before the vote, a reference to Rockhold saying some council members may not have asked questions June 10 because they didn’t “want to expose their ignorance in this meeting.”

Rockhold told Lynch after the meeting that he meant more detailed questions are often asked in committee meetings than in full council sessions.

Lynch said PUB representatives should have brought the issue to the Finance Committee or addressed it at the last meeting. After Tuesday’s meeting, she said she will likely vote for the ordinance when it appears for first reading at the July 8 council meeting.