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Parkersburg City Council advances water rate increase

Parkersburg City Councilman J.R. Carpenter asks a question during discussion of an ordinance authorizing a planned $17 million water system improvement project by the Parkersburg Utility Board at Tuesday’s council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — Parkersburg City Council approved the first readings of a trio of ordinances related to a water rate increase and accompanying improvement project Tuesday.

A pair of ordinances authorizing the estimated $17 million in improvements and a rate hike that will increase the average Parkersburg Utility Board customer’s bill by a total of 7 percent spread over three years passed 6-3 after some debate during council’s regular meeting at the Municipal Building.

Councilman J.R. Carpenter made a motion that any revenue generated from the rate increase “will go to nothing but the project … you have outlined,” but it died for lack of a second.

Bond counsel John Stump said neither state law nor the practices of lending agencies allow revenue to be segregated like that.

City Attorney Blaine Myers said he did not believe council had the authority to dictate how the PUB used its revenue. He also referenced a question from Councilman Mike Reynolds in a prior meeting about whether council could include a provision in the rate legislation saying the money could not be used for pay raises.

Parkersburg City Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl, left, speaks during debate over an ordinance authorizing a water rate increase by the Parkersburg Utility Board at Tuesday’s council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“In my opinion, council could not do that. We have a utility board that is separately managed,” he said.

Mayor Tom Joyce, who is the PUB’s chairman, said that since the utility board was established in 1996, improvements have always been made when rates were increased.

“Every time they’ve been entrusted with … their customers’ money, they have made substantial and significant improvements,” he said. “We’ve got three engineers on that board. They know what they’re doing. … The PUB has been good to the City of Parkersburg.”

Carpenter was joined in voting against the first two ordinances by Councilwoman Jesse Cottrille and Councilman Bob Mercer. Mercer said he knows a lot of improvements to the water system are needed but cited inflation and its impact on residents.

“At the same time, we have a lot of people that are living on fixed incomes, paycheck to paycheck,” he said.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce speaks during debate over an ordinance authorizing a Parkersburg utility Board water rate increase during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl said the rate increase was projected to have been nearly 16 percent before council allocated $7 million in American Rescue Plan funds to the project. The PUB then proposed a 9 percent increase, which she said Manager Eric Bennett agreed to reduce to 7 percent in discussion with her after the first proposal could not get enough sponsors to be placed on the council agenda.

The phased increase will raise the monthly bill for a customer using the average amount of 3,100 gallons of water a month by 66 cents in the first year, 65 cents in the second and 62 in the third, Bennett said.

“You’re talking about possibly a $2 rate increase over three years,” Kuhl said.

The project will replace a combined 56,400 feet of large- and small-diameter water mains, improve water pressure and flow in south Parkersburg with the construction of a water storage tank and booster station, rehabilitate equipment at the water treatment plant and the south reservoir.

Parkersburg resident Jeff Stump said during the public forum that the lack of water pressure to fire hydrants near his house on south side concerns him.

“Not only would it (the project) help that entire hillside, but a large portion of south side, from what I understand,” he said.

The third ordinance, which authorizes issuance of the bonds, passed 8-1, with only Cottrille opposed.

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