WOOD COUNTY, W.Va.-(WTAP) Updated: 1/25/2018 5:00 P.M.
The Wood County Commission says the Claywood Park Public Service District should not have listed a separate surcharge on its just mailed utility bills.
It discussed the issue with District Manager Todd Grinstead Thursday, after getting a recent complaint from a customer.
Grinstead argued the surcharge is for bonds it is paying for improvements to the district, after it recently received a 30% sewer rate increase.
But the commission-who approved that increase-says it did not authorize the surcharge.
"It's not fair to us to misrepresent our work, and make something work for you and your customers," Commissioner Jimmy Colombo told Grinstead.
"The intent was to make it simple for the municipal bond commission as we record these funds and send them and show them the exact amount that was billed for each customer," Grinstead explained. "It's part of the whole, it's not an additional fee."
The rate hike the commission approved was for less than what Claywood was seeking.
Grinstead agreed that, in the future, the surcharge would be included as part of the rate hike itself, and not be listed separately on bills.
Updated: 11/27/2017 12:20 P.M.
The Wood County Commission approves a less-than-requested sewer rate increase for the Claywood Park Public Service District.
Next year, sewer rates will increase by 30%, with a rate of 28% in two years.
The increase the commission granted was less than the 36% the district was seeking. It could have rejected the increase, approved it as proposed, or let it go into effect with no action at all.
Commissioner Jimmy Colombo, however, was concerned tbat, with no action at all, local district administrators would have had less input in how the money was spent.
"I think it would hurt us more if we had an outsider come in from Charleston or somewhere else, or from some bond company, and run your company for you," Colombo said, "and pass on an extremely high kind of rate that will disturb your whole customer base."
Other members thought the district could first cut expenses, notably personnel.
"I think you have overcompensated your employees," said Commissioner Bob Tebay, "and you have some expenses you need to look at; cut some expenses back."
"What we're challenging board members now is to go and cut back on issues," added Commission President Blair Couch. "(An) 8.5% pay increase over five years, we wish we could have paid that."
Claywood argued the pay helps keep experienced people working for them.
An element of the increase is a requirement PSD's keep reserve funds for emergencies.
"The whole design of Senate Bill 234 is that you aren't back every two years for a rate increase," said Zack Dobbins, an accountant also consulting the Lubeck Public Service District, which votes this week on a proposed rate increase for its sewer customers. "If you have a shortfall, you can dip into that money, and you can continually fund that."
Added Fred Rader, of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council: "Their electric bill will go up, their chemical cost will go up, but that's all relatively minor compared to solving the bond issue."
Those bonds were issued to help pay for past improvements. If they're paid off in the next couple of years, the increase will then be 28%, as also approved Monday morning by the commission.
Updated: 11/20/2017 5:05 P.M.
The Claywood Park Public Service District sold bonds in anticipation of a major customer coming on line in Davisville.
That customer, and the revenue, never materialized. But the bonds still have to be paid off.
"We don't want to get into a situation like we did with this large sewer customer, where they pull out," Manager Todd Grinstead told the commission Monday morning. "If you borrow $1 million for 40 homes, you have to know you'll have income. And that's where this minimum bill comes into play."
"And we're in technical default right now," added the district's accountant, Zach Dobbins, "and once that money runs out, we would be in complete default on those bonds."
Grinstead also noted: "We know how much we're going to have, so we can meet these obligations with the funding agency."
The district wants a sewer rate increase, which would be modified once the bonds are paid off. The money would also pay for equipment upgrades and replacement.
But the Wood County Commission wants to see if Claywood has made efforts to save money, to help pay for those obligations.
"We cut back our health department, when we need it the most.," noted Blair Couch, Wood County Commission President. "These have not been easy cuts, we cut back personnel costs, and we have not given out a pay raise from the commission for...seven years. And we want to see if you take this as seriously as we."
Grinstead also stated projects federal grant money once paid to build, are costing money to maintain.
"Back in the '80's...it sounded great at the time...the EPA came up with this 85% grant money, for this alternative sewer system. That is one of the most labor-intensive, costly...yeah, it was free to put it in, but to maintain it..."
After the commission acts on Claywood's request next Monday, November 27, Lubeck's PSD is expected to be the next to come for approval of a sewer rate increase.
Updated: 11/13/2017 6:30 P.M.
The Wood County Commission is gathering information in advance of a November 20 public hearing on a proposed sewer rate increase for the Claywood Park Public Service District.
It wants to know how much of a proposed rate increase from the Claywood Park District has to do with a planned development with the Polymer Alliance Zone.
Commission President Blair Couch says the development, which never materialized, was supposed to provide jobs as well as potential revenue for the Claywood district.
The commission is expected to make a decision on the proposed rate increase November 27th.
Updated: 11/10/2017 4:40 P.M.
The Wood County Commission has set November 20 as a public hearing date for a proposed sewer rate increase for the Claywood Park Public Service District.
During the past two years, Lubeck and Claywood Park Public Service Districts have been approved for water rate increases.
They're again asking for increases, this time for wastewater rates.
"We're going to go for a 14.8% rate increase," says Rocky McConnell, General Manager, Lubeck Public Service District. "Around 11% of that increase is to comply with Senate Bill 234."
That bill, approved in 2015, requires public service districts to keep part of their funds in reserve, for equipment purchases and emergencies.
Claywood Park is also seeking funds to cover payments from preveious bond issues.
"The other is, correct the bond coverage level," says Todd Grinstead, General Manager, Claywood Park Public Service District, "and to repay bond reserve accounts that we've had to dip into to make bond payments out of."
Discussion by the Wood County Commission about public service districts, recently has included suggestions that some of the PSD's consolidate as a cost-saving move.
Lubeck and Claywood Park's managers both have doubts about the feasibility of combining districts.
"Somebody with an engineering background would have to look at everythiing to make sure it makes sense," Grinstead says. "And there has to be a value to the customer to do something that way."
McConnell notes: "It would be hard for someone to come in to take over our stuff because they don't know where it's at, and the same is true with us, because we don't know their stuff."
The county commission eventually will have to consider approving both requests.
Lubeck plans two public meetings on its pending increase. They're scheduled at 1:00 P.M. November 9th and the 30th, at the PSD offices on Ox Johnson Lane, off route 68.