A system that would cost about $15,000 to reinstall at the Sistersville Sewer Plant was essentially stolen piece by piece, according to City Commissioner Daniel Grimes.
The information was revealed during Monday night's council meeting that lasted over three hours.
Richard Barnett, project manager of Earthtec Environmental Services, LLC, suggested to council that they could realize long-term savings at their wastewater plant if they built their own water system there. That way, water treated at the plant could be used for utilitarian purposes such as washdowns and sprays.
Over the years it was removed and now municipal water is used for those purposes, not plant water. "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense," he said.
When a resident asked what happened to the system that was in place, Grimes looked to Mayor Bill Rice, who gave him the go ahead to reveal the history.
"A previous employee that is no longer with the city basically used the plant as their own little salvage yard," said Grimes, who noted the employee took items from the plant and recycled them.
"That employee was arrested and charged. He served some jail time for it," said Police Chief Ben Placer.
When it was noted that the former employee spent five days in jail, the rather sizable audience at the meeting held at the fire hall laughed.
Someone asked, if it was considered theft, could the cost not be covered by insurance?
Rice said he was just told about the situation that day. "We could probably try to dig into it," said the mayor. However, he doubted it could help after such a long time.
Grimes noted it all happened before he worked as city manager on Oct. 9, 2012. "There is a lot of 'he said, she said,'" he added.
Barnett said six to eight months ago Grimes asked him to evaluate the wastewater plant for any cost savings measures. He said installing a in-house water system was the most obvious answer. However, he said it is expensive to put that system back in; It would be a long-term cost savings.
"If you want to continue with your water system, there isn't a problem with it, it's just the cost," said Barnett.
He estimated that materials alone would be $9-10,000 and labor would probably run $5-6,000.
Barnett could not give a figure for the kind of savings the city would realize. He said it depended on the amount of water used and the cost to the city for water treatment.
"You use a lot of water down there," said Barnett.
Grimes said the usage depends on many factors. "It is never the same every month," he said. However, the city commissioner noted that during one busy month the city wastewater plant had a $2,500 water bill.
Councilman Phil Konopacky wondered how much it would cost to get a cost benefit analysis prepared.
Councilman Mark Klages suggested the city look into any grants that might be available to help fund it.
Barnett added, "I have been all over the place and I have never seen a wastewater plant use treated water."
The consultant also suggested another long-term cost savings measure would be to develop a plan for lift station maintenance.
"They have not had a whole lot of maintenance over the years," noted Barnett, who added, "That happens at most towns. For whatever reason, preventative maintenance often gets skipped over."
Lift stations, that pump sewage to the plant, are extremely expensive pieces of equipment. In fact, Sistersville has spent $25,000 to fix one lift station.
Barnett suggested either getting some in-house training for maintenance or contracting that maintenance out. "It has saved a tremendous amount of money in other utilities," he noted.
Maintenance can mean the difference between a $5,000 repair and a $35,000 replacement.
Barnett said city workers can get training at the Environmental Training Center in Ripley. This would be for basic level maintenance knowledge.
But he seemed to suggest that contracting the maintenance might be more judicious. He had contacted one company to inquire about the service and found a cost of $1,200 a month suggested for Sistersville. In his time consulting with utilities, he has never seen a company cancel its maintenance contract.
Sistersville has five lift stations. A utility that has over 200 lift stations realized $60,000 in savings the first year of their maintenance contract.
"The silver lining in this is that you guys have rebuilt almost every lift station you have," said Barnett.
Last week he said the city had "the most serious inspection a town can have" by the Department of Environmental Protection and the stations all looked pretty good.