Sewer board still ponders billing vacant dwellings
In a confusing session of the Warm Springs Public Service District Board meeting, members changed the wording of a proposed new billing policy, then voted 2 – 1 to adopt the policy, and then
rescinded their vote until they could get a legal opinion about it.
The actions took place at the sewer board’s Wednesday, August 8 meeting.
The billing policy’s wording was slightly amended on the advice of the West Virginia Public Service Commission legal staff.
Under the new policy, owners of vacant inhabitable structures that are connected to a metered water system must pay $39.54 a month. Owners of vacant structures not on a metered water
system but “near the sewer facility” must pay $58.05 a month.
Exceptions may be made by the Warm Springs Public Service District Board if a structure is declared
uninhabitable by the Morgan County Health Department or other qualified agencies.
How the votes went
Member Mike Jenkins first made the motion to seek a legal opinion before voting on the policy. The motion died due to the lack of a second.
Member Joyce Altomare then calling for a vote, saying a decision on the new policy had been put off for two months and the issue needed to be decided.
When the vote came, Paul Zorich and Jenkins voted for the new billing policy while Altomare voted against it.
The three then agreed the policy would become effective on September 1.
After the vote, General Manager Rodney Hovermale said he felt Jenkins was correct and the board should seek a legal opinion before implementing the policy.
After some discussion, the votes were rescinded and the board voted to have the policy reviewed by an attorney and to vote again at a future meeting after receiving the legal opinion.
Ten citizens attended the August 8 meeting and their reaction to the proposed billing policy was decidedly negative.
Bath Town Councilman Andy Swaim said the town opposes the policy. He pointed out the council did not raise their tax levy rate this year.
“In these economic times, we didn’t feel it was right to impose any more taxation upon our residents,” Swaim said.
“We would ask you to maybe look at other methods of raising revenue,” he said.
He said if a landlord, individual, bank or corporation sitting on a bunch of foreclosures is forced to pay the fee, those costs will be passed on to prospective renters or buyers, making it harder for the property to be rented or sold.
Marvin Keener asked what the procedure would be to get a property declared uninhabitable. Keener has a trailer on his property that is connected to the sewer but has not been occupied for four years and is used only for storage. The water is turned off.
Zorich said Keener would have to contact the Health Department.
Robert Barney called the policy discriminatory against those with vacant rental properties.
He also questioned why some of the sewer board members are taking $100 for each meeting when board members in the past served voluntarily.
“You have no idea how many hours I put in,” Altomare replied. “You also don’t have any idea how much I have had to learn and how much I‘ve had to deal with. I am entitled to the salary and it doesn’t even begin to make the payments on my Lexus.”
Darren Barney, an electrician and plumber, made a point by passing out an invoice to board members.
He facetiously said: “I can understand you want to come up with some money. So while there is a meeting here, I figured I can come up with some money. So here is a bill for everybody for my services, because I have the service available anytime you want it. Just because you aren’t using it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have to pay for it.”
Ira Manley, who has 18 rental units, said, “I don’t know where you people think we get this kind of money. We continue to pay. Every time the government puts its hand out, we got a fee and it’s ridiculous.”
Dean Maxwell asked what other avenues for revenues are available to the board.
“I can’t answer that question. I haven’t looked and turned over every stone in that regard,” Zorich responded.
“Wouldn’t that be a really, really good thing to do before you start promulgating policies?” Maxwell asked.
Maxwell said the board had not made public how much revenue they are expecting to receive and how many houses, businesses and properties are going to be affected.
He spoke at length about the impact the new fees will have on the community when renters go out of business and the affect that will have on the other businesses.
Maxwell asked if the board had looked into restructuring the district’s bond debt like other businesses have to do in tough times.
“I think our expected life of the plant is already shorter than our bonds are. Extending that is not an option,” Jenkins said.
Barney asked about the possibility of raising rates again for everyone rather than implementing this policy.
“Sir, if that was an economical option, that would be my first choice,” Jenkins said. He explained it would cost more than $15,000 in legal fees and take two years to get another rate increase approved.
“The money has to come from somewhere to keep the service going,” Altomare said. She added plant employees haven’t had a raise in three years.
“We are continually trying to play catch up ball here,” Zorich said. “We understand what you are saying tonight. We aren’t that dense that we don’t see what’s happening.”