Senate bill aims to hold down water rate hikes

CHARLES TOWN – Charles Town City Manager Joe Cosentini says that a bill that recently cleared the state Senate should help area municipalities keep down the rate increases that will be necessary to pay for water treatment plant upgrades required by the Chesapeake Bay Initiative.

“Any time we were going to have to do one of these upgrades, put more money into any one of these plants, what we would have to do is go for a rate increase,” Cosentini said. “This funding could either reduce the increase that would be required or we might be able to delay it altogether. The original bill was passed in 2011, and that was going to supply all local jurisdictions that had Chesapeake Bay-related upgrades to their water treatment plants upgrades funding.”

Senate Bill 596 – submitted by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and co-sponsored by Senate President Jeff Kessler, a Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, a Republican – contains a number of technical tweaks to the program meant to share some of the costs of water plant improvements with municipalities.

“This way they can offer the bonds this year instead of waiting two to three years,” explained Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson. “That’s extremely good news for Jefferson and Berkeley counties. Charles Town gets money out of that. Shepherdstown gets repaid the money it paid for its plant.

“All of that is going to be repaid at about 50 cents on the dollar, paid by the state.”

The bill still needs to pass the House before the legislative session ends next weekend. If it becomes law, Cosentini says it is difficult to say precisely how much the bill could save municipal water and sewer customers.

“We don’t know exactly what the rate impact would have been,” he said. “We haven’t done that analysis yet. But any funding we get from the state is going to help.”


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