Proposed water rate increase will help upgrade aging Berkeley Springs water plant system

by Trish Rudder

On Tuesday, July 2, a public hearing regarding the proposed water rate increase was set for 5:30 p.m. at the Town of Bath Municipal Building.

The Bath Town Council was to vote on the second reading of the ordinance, and if it passes it will go to  he state Public Service Commission for a review and approval.

According to the Town of Bath Ordinance, to increase water rates, “the current rates and charges for water utility service provided by the Town of Bath are insufficient to fund its current operating costs including the maintenance of the water system.”

“In order to provide revenues sufficient to pay the expenses of operations and to provide working capital reserves and capacity capital cost reserves, the Town Council of the Town of Bath deems it necessary to increase the rates and charges for furnishing water utility services and to establish capacity capital cost fees,” the ordinance states, which passed the first reading on May 21.

The town-owned water department, the Berkeley Springs Water Works is chaired by Bath Councilman Dave O’Connell. He has been active in working with the town’s Ordinance and Finance committees for the last year before he became the head of the water department committee.

O’Connell said in an email on Monday that a number of incidents occurred at the water plant that “not only contributed to our budget overrun but has exposed the system’s fragility.”

One incident in April was a broken water line pump that had to be rebuilt.

A damaged water pump in the Berkeley Springs Water Works treatment plant before it was removed this spring.

A major upgrade to the water treatment plant is being planned after a study was done by Thrasher Engineering that is estimated to cost more than $1.6 million.

The upgrade would “greatly improve the “reliability” of the system,” O’Connell said because the “current BSWW customers shouldn’t have to worry about pumps that break down, the ease of switching to a backup process or if an electric generator will turn on when a snow storm takes out the electricity,” all problems that occurred this past year and impacted the system.

Bath Councilman Greg Schene, who chairs the Ordinance committee, said on Monday that repairs and upgrades to “our aging [water] system is necessary. “Revenue from water plant operations has remained flat for the past decade while expenses have increased dramatically,” he said.

Schene said that the water department has not had a water rate increase in 14 years, and “there are two things we know with absolute certainty: one, infrastructure does not fix itself and two, there is no substitute for clean, healthy drinking water,” which the town is “very fortunate to have.”

“We realize a one-time 20% increase is significant. Our new rate structure will place the Berkeley Springs Water Works in the middle for all municipal water utilities in the state of West Virginia from a rate perspective. The new tariff will increase the minimum monthly bill for residential customers from $32.28 to $38.72,” Schene said.

Additional adjustments in the form of Capacity Cost Fees are needed at this time, he said. The capacity fees are paid to the water system and are earmarked to offset capacity-related costs, including new water hookups in existing residential buildings or new buildings that will pay the $850 tap fee plus a $1,500 capacity fee with the new ordinance.

As it is now, he said, the flat $850 tap fee does not cover services and labor by the water department.

“These fees are assessed on new residential, commercial and industrial projects. Capacity Cost Fees can be used to pay construction costs or to help pay back bonds and loans that are needed to fund large water system projects such as a second water plant,” Schene said in an email on Monday.