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Pine Grove Rejects Rate Increases

June 20, 2018
BY ED PARSONS - Staff Writer ( , Wetzel Chronicle

Pine Grove Mayor Barbara King called a special informative meeting for June 11 for discussions pertaining to sewer and water increases for the town. A presentation to address the need for the increases, and to explain the steps necessary to acquire the funding, was presented by several groups in attendance.

Among those speaking were representatives of the USDA, DEP, and PSC, along with A.C. Belomar Regional Development Council, Doug Forni from Thrasher Engineering and Zack Dobbins, CPA from Fairmont. Mayor King explained she had invited these individuals to the meeting to give council and residents a better understanding of the need for increases and what it takes to receive the funds necessary to move forward with Phase III of the sewer project.

Recently the town has been receiving complaints from many of its residents and businesses concerning sewage in their basements, yards and streets. The majority of the complaints center around visible raw sewage and the odor of sewer gas.

At Monday's meeting, Doug Forni of Thrasher said his company had performed a study of the current system and with Phase I and Phase II completed, in order for the system to work properly, Phase III needs to be finished. Zack Dobbins, CPA, also was in agreement. Both mentioned the cost associated with the project would be around $3,460,000 but in order for the town to be eligible for grant money and loans, they would have to approve an increase in sewer rates.

According to the financial analysis, rates within the city would need to be increased by around 30 percent. The proposed increase would raise the rates on sewage from $59.76 per month to $77.67 - based on water useage of 4,500 gallons. However, it would also raise $8.56 for every additional 500 gallons used. Accordingly, water rates would also need to be increased to qualify for grant money.

The town heard information from the representatives of the various agencies, including the USDA, which explained the town is not in good standing with its loan for previous updates to the sewer system and has fallen behind in recent monthly payments, which could also affect their credit rating and ability to get grants and loans. Town Recorder Rhonda Spencer said the payment for June was just mailed out; however, the USDA representative told her the town is still considered behind on payment until it is received. According to the USDA, there had been a period of time in which a payment was not received for for four to five months, and there is interest owed on that.

Residents questioned the need to finish Phase III of the system. Residents said their systems are now operating properly, and previous troubles were caused by failure to maintain the system. Within the past week, two new city workers and some volunteers have cleaned the sewage "pits" and cleared the lines. Workers changed oil in the pumps and have done other maintenance work and there is no problem.

According to Thrasher, Phase III still needs to be completed because the two systems are not compatible and more maintenance problems would continue. Tim Flint, who helped recently clear the system, was asked how long the old vacuum system would last. He responded if properly maintained, he believes it could last forever.

At that point, Mayor King and all the council thanked the visitors from the various agencies for coming to the meeting and for their input. King then called to order the regular scheduled meeting of council, at which time the agencies left. After approving the minutes of the last meeting and the financial report, Mayor King called for the reading of the ordinances for sewer and water rate increases.

City recorder Spencer read the sewer ordinance, and Mayor King called for a motion to pass the reading. Councilwoman Cindy Figler made a motion to adopt the ordinance, but the motion failed for a lack of a second. Mayor King then responded if there was nothing else to be addressed, she would like a motion to adjourn.

Councilman Richard Price asked that council read the ordinance for the water increase. After Spencer read the proposed ordinance, the measure died for lack of a motion. Councilwoman Stacy Judge said she would not vote for the increase because with the amount of water her and her family uses, it would raise her bill higher than her house payment. She said she just could not afford it, and she is going to have a daughter going to college.

Councilman Casey Pingley said he could not vote for this ordinance because he has never once, since he's been on council, heard discussion about cutting costs. He said there are elderly people in the community and others as well, that are living on very little, and he's is not going to vote something in that would make it harder for them to live. Councilman Price stated there are ways to cut costs; he said recently the town has saved over $5,000 on wages, including overtime, by terminating the employment of workers that weren't doing their job and hiring people that want to work. He said he recently watched as a lady cried because she couldn't afford the city utilities while living on $800 a month.

"I am not going to throw anymore weight on the backs of those people, and I will tell you now, if you don't like the way I vote, than you can vote me out. I believe we can keep the system we have and make it work fine without putting the burden on those who can't afford it," said Price

No action was taken on the matter, and after brief discussion on how the old vacuum and new gravity sewage systems would work together, the meeting was adjourned.

On Tuesday June 12, the Wetzel Chronicle was informed Mayor King and Councilwoman Figler had resigned from their positions on council. Councilman Richard Price has been appointed as mayor.

According to Mayor Price, Figler said it was just time for her to leave council. Price said King gave no statement or reason as to why she was resigning.

Mayor Price said he believes the town will be able to get all of its current sewage problems behind them and will be making repairs, working on pits, and working to get some much needed parts and equipment.



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