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PUB doesn’t object to 7% water rate hike request

Parkersburg Utility Board Manager Eric Bennett passes out copies of the new proposed water rate schedule to board members, clockwise from left, Mayor Tom Joyce, Greg Herrick and Paul Hoblitzell during a meeting Tuesday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — Reducing a requested rate increase from 9 percent to 7 percent “appeared to be the only way to get it to move” before Parkersburg City Council, Parkersburg Utility Board Manager Eric Bennett said Tuesday.

Bennett gave board members a copy of the revised rate increase during the board’s regular meeting Tuesday.

Although the PUB is a separate entity from the city, its rates must be approved by council. The utility had proposed a 9 percent rate increase, phased in over three years, to help fund a $17 million water system improvement project, as well as adapt to rising prices and a shrinking customer base.

But council members, who in July allocated $7 million in American Rescue Plan Act money for the project that helped reduce the request, balked at the 9 percent figure.

“I couldn’t get sponsors (to get it on the agenda); I certainly couldn’t get votes,” Bennett said.

Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl said Friday that the 7 percent proposal had enough sponsors to get on council’s Oct. 26 agenda and she planned to vote in favor of it.

If it passes at that meeting, the rate ordinance would appear on final reading at the Nov. 9 meeting.

“Then we can start moving down the road with the project,” Bennett said.

The average residential customer using 3,100 gallons of water a month pays $27.36 under the existing rates. With the new proposal, that would increase to $28.02 as of July 1, 2022; $28.67 the next year; and $29.29 the final year. That’s a savings of 34 cents a month versus the original proposal in the first year, 35 cents in the second and 54 cents in the third.

The reduction means the utility will have less money available for routine capital expenditures like replacing hydrants, water mains and equipment, Bennett said.

“It’s highly possible we’re back in front of them sooner” for a future rate increase, he said.

Members of the board, which is chaired by Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce, did not object to the change. No vote was taken, which Bennett said was not required since the ordinance is passed by council, not the board.

In other business, the board voted 5-0 to approve a pay estimate of $130,050 to Siemens Industry Inc. for the ongoing boiler and air compressor project at the water treatment plant. Bennett said installation is scheduled to start this week and the project is on schedule.

The board also voted 5-0 to approve a change order on the project, since the specified ethernet module for the boilers’ programmable logic controller was unavailable and a new part had to be ordered. That increased the cost by $2,581.

“Can’t start it up without it,” board member Mike Evans said.

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