CHARLES TOWN — Jefferson County Commissioners want assurances that 2,400 rate-paying customers won’t be left footing the bill for three major water and sewer projects proposed by the county’s Public Service District.
Members of the PSD briefed the commission July 17 on the three planned projects, which include the purchasing of Jefferson Utilities Inc., improvements to the Blue Ridge Mountain Water System and an upgrade of sewer lines. The projects have a combined price tag of $40 million.
PSD members told commissioners that funding for the projects could come in the way of grants, bonds and loans.
Yet with no guarantees from the PSD as to where the funding will come from, commissioners expressed their concerns.
“I know it’s your job to the find the money, but where I’m concerned is how are we going to pay the money back,” Commissioner Dale Manuel said. “We’re not talking enough about that … How are we going to retire that debt, not on the backs of 2,400 consumers and ratepayers.”
Manuel said many of the ratepayers are of low-income and could find it difficult to pay the additional costs. Of the 2,400 customers, 1,800 live in low-cost housing.
Commissioner Jane Tabb said it seemed unclear from the presentation what ratepayers would be forced to pay.
“Unfortunately, at this point we don’t know the cost to ratepayers,” she said. “We don’t have a definite cost to the taxpayer. It’s going to be a lot of money unless we find grants and other sources of funding. I’m trying to get the total cost to the ratepayer down as low as possible to make the projects feasible. That’s where I’m headed.”
Commissioner Lyn Widmyer said one way to reduce costs is to get more customers.
“If the anticipated growth does not occur, than there is no relief,” she said.
Wayne Morgan, an engineer with Thrasher Engineering in Charleston, explained each project, including details as to why they were needed.
The purchase of Jefferson Utilities Inc. at a cost of $14.9 million would allow for improvements to the water system over a two-year construction period, Morgan said. Some 2,200 new customers would be added to the system.
“We’re still securing funding,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we had a meeting with the Department of Agriculture and they have funds for loans that are available.”
Morgan said if the service area meets certain qualifications, the interest rates on the loans could be low.
Morgan said sewer system upgrades are also needed along W.Va. 9 and the Flowing Springs Basin. Both are close to capacity.
“The pump stations in those areas are 40 years old,” he said. “The pumps and the motors are reaching the end of their useful life.”
Morgan said sewer backups in those areas have been an issue for residents.
“The lack of capacity is only going to get worse,” he said. “… It’s becoming a mechanical nightmare.”
Improvements include the elimination of six pump stations in the W.Va. 9 and the Flowing Springs basin.
However, PSD officials tabled the sewer system project to allow them time to look at alternatives.
Finally, the Mountain Water System project is slated to improve water flow, pressure, provide fire hydrants in each community, reduce leak repairs, reduce maintenance costs, and provide clean water.
Morgan said the project will also include upgrades to the filtration system.
“The public service commission says it’s the right project to do,” he said. “The price still has to be reviewed by the Public Service Commission and agreed upon.”
The board took no final actions at the workshop; both Commissioners Walt Pellish and Patsy Noland were absent.