On April 15 Middlebourne Council unanimously approved the first of three readings to increase water rates by 15 percent.
Mayor Charles Delauder said the increase is needed for two reasons: they must reach a certain rate level before they are available for any grants, according to the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council, and the water system is currently running in the red.
"When you figure everything out, we will be $11,421 short come July 1," said Delauder of the water department. "I just don't know how we're going to keep the water plant running if we don't have an increase."
Middlebourne Mayor Charles Delauder displays new decorative banners that will flay above Main Street. (Photo by Amy Witschey)
The rate increase should translate into raising the average bill by about $4. With sewage, garbage, and any other charges, an average municipal bill would be about $92.
"It makes more sense to do gradual increases," said Councilwoman Susan Pelikan.
Colleague Vera Henthorn agreed, "You don't notice it as much."
Mayor Delauder noted that, even with the increase, which would have to be approved by the West Virginia Public Service Commission, the town would still have the 35th lowest water rates in the state.
"It is nice knowing we had some of the lowest rates around," agreed Pelikan.
Treasurer Tena Lemasters expressed some concern about the rate increase. "We have so many now, I'm just worried it will be a mess either way," she said of delinquent bills.
Based on a 3,000 gallon minimum bill, the minimum would increase from $22.46 to $25.82.
"If we pass this, we will be halfway there," said Delauder of the town meeting the bill threshold for grant eligibility.
The town currently has a $30,000 grant for pre-engineering for a project that would improve distribution capacity, a water storage tank, and add fire hydrants.
Councilman Rodney Miller wanted to know if there was a study done on the reduction in production costs if the town can switch to getting its water from wells instead of Middle Island Creek. The mayor said there had not been a study completed, but there would undoubtedly be a reduction because less chemicals would be needed to make the water potable.
"The good thing about water wells is we are guaranteeing we are not going to get any of the waste that is being dumped in the creek," noted Delauder.
In June or July the town will be drilling test wells at a depth of about 100 feet. The mayor said the wells must make 72,000 gallons per minute to be feasible.
Miller noted that if they hit good wells, the town would have the capacity to expand and pick up more customers.
"The more water we sell, the better off we are," agreed Delauder.
Council noted that if the rate increase is approved and goes into effect, it will also slightly increase the price at the water filling station by the town building.
"In reality, that's the most expensive water," said Delauder. Currently the price is $2 for 250 gallons or $8 per 1,000 gallons on the vender by the city building.
The new rate would charge line customers $8.60 per 1,000 gallons as opposed to the current $7.48 per 1,000. That rate is for the first 4,000 gallons; the price changes as consumption increases.
In other matters, Delauder showed council new banners that will decorate the town's Main Street. Colorful ones with a picket fence and flowers will go up soon. Then patriotic ones will be up Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Also under town improvement, as soon as electric company can get it hooked up, the welcome signs will be lit. All of the other work is completed.
"Someday you'll be coming down the road after dark and you'll notice the lights," said Delauder with a smile.
Council also unanimously approved making Lemasters the town manager-a new position for Middlebourne. When reviewing the job description, council asked Lemasters if she was comfortable with all of the duties. She said she already does all of these things listed except for one or two items-primarily the hiring and firing of employees.
However, those actions require mayor and council approval anyway.
Delauder added that some of the duties, particularly directing the city workers on what is to be done on a daily basis, will be done in consultation with him.
Lemasters will receive a $200 per month salary increase in concert with the title.
She will soon have a new computer with which to generate municipal bills. Council approved the purchase of a machine at a cost of $949.99 plus labor.
"It seems like we never get through buying computers," noted Delauder, who added that the purchase is necessary. "It has already stopped once on Tena in the middle of running bills."
Mayor Delauder noted there are several junk cars sitting on the streets. He will begin writing letters to the owners if they do not have a valid inspection sticker or license plate. If they are not removed, they will be towed and impounded until they pay a fine or the city sells the car.
"I intend to start enforcing this because it is getting out of hand," said Delauder.
Finally, a request from the American Legion for $200 to fund a boy to attend Boys State died for a lack of a motion. Pelikan said she thinks it is a wonderful program, but if you start giving out money, everyone will come asking.
Those present at the meeting were Delauder, Lemasters, Henthorn, Miller, and Pelikan.