Parkersburg City Council considering $7M for water improvements

Tim Barker, chief operator at the Parkersburg Utility Board water treatment plant, discusses planned upgrades to the wash water basin, one of several projects in an estimated $14.7 million improvement effort officials hope to partially fund with American Rescue Plan money. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — Parkersburg City Council on Tuesday will vote on allocating $7 million in American Rescue Plan funding to the Parkersburg Utility Board for planned water system improvements.

The infusion of cash from federal efforts to boost the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic won’t eliminate the need for a rate increase to help fund the projected $14.7 million project, but it would lower it.

“It will drastically lessen the impact or the need for a rate increase,” PUB Manager Eric Bennett said.

A special council meeting is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Tuesday before the regular session at 7:30 p.m. The agenda for the special meeting said public input on the resolution is encouraged.

The utility board has been discussing the improvements since before the pandemic began last spring. The projects include replacing approximately 36,400 lineal feet of 6- to 12-inch water mains, replacing approximately 20,000 lineal feet of 2-inch and smaller water mains with 6- and 4-inch mains, building a booster station and storage tank to improve service pressure and fire protection in south Parkersburg and rehabilitating the wash water basin at the treatment plant.

Guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department on using the money has continued to evolve, but Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce, the chairman of the utility board, said it’s always been “crystal clear” that water and sewer infrastructure projects are acceptable uses. In discussions with Treasury officials and the office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., “there’s zero anticipation of that changing,” the mayor said.

Having clean, safe water is “paramount to quality of life” and benefits both residents and businesses, Joyce said.

The resolution allocating the money is on the agenda for Tuesday’s regular council meeting. If approved, future legislation would be needed to authorize the project, the sale of bonds to fund it and the rate increase to ensure there is adequate revenue to make the bond payments and run the system.

“By early next year, late winter, early spring, we should be awarding the contracts,” Bennett said.

The $7 million is proposed to come from the $10,925,203 the city has received as its first installment of more than $22 million in Rescue Plan funds. The remaining portion will be budgeted as an unappropriated fund balance for the time being, Finance Director Eric Jiles said.

Council President Zach Stanley said because of the lead time needed for the water projects, officials felt it was good to get started on that portion of the funding allocations now. He said public input will be key as the city determines the other ways in which the money will be used.

“There’s going to be other things that are needed, and we’re going to address those in due time,” Stanley said.

The council agenda also includes, barring significant amendments, the final reading of an ordinance establishing a moratorium on the opening of any new residential substance abuse treatment facilities in the city until June 30, 2022.

The ACLU of West Virginia has warned the city the ban is unconstitutional, and a number of people spoke against it at the July 13 council meeting, saying that putting a halt to new sober-living residences will only increase problems because there aren’t enough of those beds for people who have finished treatment programs.

Council voted 6-1, with two members absent, to approve the ordinance on first reading, with supporters saying action has to be taken to address the proliferation of treatment facilities.

The number of licensed treatment beds in Wood County increased from 30 in 2017 to 283 earlier this year, giving the county about 18 percent of the total beds in West Virginia. City officials have linked those statistics with increases in homelessness and related crimes, and some argue sober-living facilities have a negative impact on surrounding property values.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda are:

* Resolutions authorizing Joyce to execute contractual agreements for the long-in-development Rayon Drive and Gihon Elementary School sidewalk projects. Joyce said details had to be worked out about long-term maintenance responsibilities for the projects and this represents another obstacle addressed on the way to finally moving forward.

* A resolution authorizing Joyce to administer a federal Justice Assistance Grant for $31,146 to purchase an SUV and $19,044 for the Wood County Sheriff’s Department to purchase radios and upgrade other equipment.

* A budget revision to contribute $10,000 to a documentary about Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.


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