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City Council Mulls Service Fee Increases

By Staff | Nov 21, 2018

Sistersville Council discussed several matters Nov. 13 at its regular monthly meeting, including the possibility of raises in police and garbage fees.

Councilman Greg Cage said he and fellow finance committee member Bonnie Hizer had “much discussion,” including “several spreadsheets,” and the finance committee settled on a proposed 10 percent raise for the police department, across the board. Cage said there has been a steady turnover in the police department; the 10 percent raise would not bring Sistersville up to parity with other law enforcement agencies, but would “get us a lot closer.”

In order to pay for the raise, the finance committee is suggesting the monthly police fee, on the city service monthly bill, be raised an additional $2.75 per household per month.

It was noted that businesses usually pay higher service fees than residential households; however, it was noted that the committee would suggest a flat rate.

Councilwoman Bonnie Hizer said the finance committee is also researching an increase in the garbage fee. However, the committee is awaiting figures as to the monthly payment of the city’s new garbage truck it anticipates purchasing. The monthly payment along with landfill charges would be factored into the garbage fee increase.

Hizer said she proposes council increase the police and garbage fees at the same time, to avoid additional possible frustration from the city’s residents. Hizer said she would like to see the increase in fees enacted at the start of 2019.

Discussion commenced as to whether or not these fees are already set forth in the city’s ordinance; if so, the timeline to enact the increases prior to the first of the year would be tight if an ordinance is required.

Councilman Chuck Heinlein said it would be good to acquire the historical data of when the last raises occurred.

Heinlein expressed support of the city’s workers and police force. Heinlein complimented the work of the police force, noting that officers have a tough job, “They have to carry a gun and wear a vest.”

Of the garbage service personnel, he noted, “They go out of the way to do extra for our people.”

“Hopefully residents can appreciate our police force and garbage men enough,” Heinlein said.

No action was taken on the matter at the Nov. 13 meeting.

In another matter, Water Plant Operator Jason Rice discussed water loss numbers, noting the numbers are not as dire as they might appear. He stated the 2016-2017 water loss numbers were at 34 percent. Rice said, this year, he figured the numbers based on data from 2017-2018. “They are showing we had a water loss of 51 percent, which is absolutely not even close to what the water loss is.”

Rice said data, prior to his position with the city, showed the city would pump 5-7 million gallons a month at the water plant. “Since me and Mitchell took over in June, we haven’t pumped above 4 million gallons, and that is keeping the plant full.”

Rice said since he began operating the water plant, there have been three to four months when the the city is below 24 percent water loss. Rice said he believes the former operator based numbers off of the wrong gallons per foot of water in the tank.

Rice said he believes the city will be at 20 percent water loss by the time park and pool numbers are calculated. He noted the department found meters at the water plant to track, along with fire department usage and backwash numbers.

“The numbers Heather (Rice, City Recorder) has look high, but the water loss isn’t that high. I don’t think we have that many leaks. I don’t think the numbers were being tracked correctly or properly documented.”

Rice said there were no records at the water plant, nothing saved in the computer. Nor were there paper files in the filing cabinets. He said he thinks the data was gathered and then faxed to appropriate agencies and put aside.

Rice said he would have to wait as to an answer on whether the Public Service District would accept the data he has gathered, or wait until later for adjusted numbers.

Rice said he was not “attacking” the former operator. “He was going by what he thought was right and didn’t think of those numbers, and they aren’t right.”

Rice said he also now has a “master meter,” which the former operator had installed last year. This aids with retrieving accurate calculations.

Rice said during months Sistersville operates the park’s swimming pool, the city pumps almost 2 million more gallons of water a month. Rice said there is not an issue with the pool having a crack or any leaks. However, the park’s splash pad needs to be connected to a recirculating pump.

In other matters, council approved a resolution between the city and the West Virginia Department of Transportation, regarding the grant award for a downtown streetscape improvement project. Rice said this is a 100 percent match, meaning no funds will come from the city.

Barbara Vincent, of the Sistersville Community Service Organization, announced the town’s Christmas parade would be on Friday night, Dec. 7. Line-up will be at 6:30 p.m., and Santa Claus will make an appearance at the Gold Derrick Gallery after the parade. Vincent said the SCSO is hoping some of the businesses will have open houses that night as well.

It was noted the city is in the process of planning and decorating for Christmas. Snowflake lights will be installed, and parking meters are to be decorated.

Council approved bills for the month. Figures were hospital accounts payable, $296,790, and payroll, $345,048. Bills for Sistersville were $26,344.52, and purchasing card figures were $435.78.

Mayor Rice said Timothy Meeks, of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council, said he would be attending the December council meeting to discuss the water project. Meeks said he did not have a verdict yet from the state’s infrastructure council as to water project funding.

In other matters, Sistersville Police Chief Rob Haught said he had interviewed prospective applicants to fill a vacancy in the police department. Chief Haught said the department was still conducting background checks and narrowing down the list of applicants to a final choice. Chief Haught noted, due to the department being short-handed, there is vacation time that hasn’t been used by Chief Haught, along with Officer Alex Northcraft. Haught said in previous years the officers were paid for the unused vacation time. “We just wanted to get permission to pay out for the vacation time,” he noted.

“Is it in your budget?” questioned Councilwoman Bonnie Hizer.

Haught stated it was, as it was regularly budgeted vacation time, but the officers weren’t able to take the time off.

Hizer questioned how many weeks were unused.

Northcraft said he took his first vacation one day at a time, and he has two weeks of unused vacation left.

Chief Haught said he only has maybe a week or a week and a half of unused vacation time left.

Council approved the pay-out for unused vacation time and then discussed the purchase of a new bullet proof vest for Sistersville’s latest hire. It was noted when an officer leaves the department, all equipment is returned to the department, and the vest is usually “written off,” as vests are fitted to each specific officer. A new vest is around $800.

Councilman Heinlein urged Chief Haught to proceed with the purchase of a new vest for the department’s new officer.

In another matter, Councilwoman Hizer said the park is winterized, and two pieces of equipment need to be installed. It was noted the instructional materials for the equipment have been obtained; therefore, the city’s workers will begin on the installation of the equipment.

Hizer also noted that one “merry-go-round” piece of equipment needed to be removed from the park.

Also, the park will install signs, which will hold business signs and signs for non-profit entities. Signs will be installed by the flag pole, which is located by the Pancake shelter. Another will be installed in the area from the ferry boat entrance.

Council also discussed alternatives to the steel grills currently located at the park. It was noted these steel grills could be a safety hazard. Therefore, council is going to consider having a concrete block grill built with a pan for charcoal. It was also discussed to perhaps purchase a grill that park renters could utilize. The grill would be stored when not in use.

Council also approved the appointment of Sharon Thomas and Alicia Ford to the park board.

Under old business, Mayor Rice said an individual who had attended October’s council meeting had contacted Congressman David McKinley’s office regarding an issue of standing water in the Hanford City area. At October’s meeting, residents from Hanford City were on hand to discuss an issue with a sewer line, stating they can see raw sewage in a ditch near their home and can smell raw sewage after heavy rains. One resident, who spoke on behalf of himself and several households affected by the broken line, had expressed concern about possible sickness from raw sewage, as well as concerns over mosquitoes that the sewage and standing water are drawing to residents’ yards.

Mayor Rice said a representative from the health department visited Sistersville and said that standing water isn’t a problem in the winter; however, in the summertime, it can cause issues. Mayor Rice said the health department official seemed unaware Hanford City is not in city limits. When the official realized this, he noted “What are we here for?” Mayor Rice said he had offered to place some dirt on the area or bring a backhoe to dig a trench, but the official advised him against such, as it could open the door to legal action. According to Mayor Rice, the official said he might discuss the matter with the county commission instead.

In another matter, the council is still researching the possibility of obtaining a building inspector for the city. Mayor Rice said other towns are discussing the matter, including Paden City. Mayor Rice said he is open to ideas and discussion. Councilman Alex King discussed possibly reaching out to a couple of individuals to investigate the issue further and perhaps set up a meeting with the finance committee. It was discussed to perhaps pay an inspector on an as-needed basis.

Councilman Heinlein then inquired as to whether Sistersville could possibly enter opioid litigation that other counties and municipalities have entered against drug manufacturers. The city attorney stated she would research the matter further. She said she did not believe there were any upfront attorney costs, and the City of Sistersville would only have to pay an attorney if there were funds awarded as a result of the lawsuit.

Also, the city attorney will research as to whether Sistersville is required to have a city doctor. The city has been paying a doctor $10 a month to be the city’s doctor. However, the doctor will be moving to Wetzel County Hospital, rather than Sistersville. There was discussion as to whether there would need to be a change in the city’s charter; the attorney will look into the matter further.

In another matter, Mayor Rice said Wood Street could not be paved this year, as the paving company is booked. He said he would have city workers apply some hot mix to the street, and the funds for Wood Street paving would be banked for next year.

Council also passed a measure to require all city employees, including council, to have direct deposit of paychecks from the city. This will remove the need to use paper checks.

In a final matter, council agreed to declare the week of Thanksgiving as Christian Heritage Week for Sistersville, as it is in West Virginia.