FOLLANSBEE — A public hearing Monday into a city water rate hike sparked questions and complaints, but Follansbee Council and other city officials argued the move was much needed and dismissed it. approved, as well as an increase in city building permit fees.
Before accepting questions and comments, Mayor David Velegol Jr. explained the reasons for increasing the base water rate from $6.84 per 1,000 gallons to $11.29 per 1,000 gallons.
Beginning with November bills, the new rate applies to all customers, as the city does not have tiered rates for residential, commercial, and industrial customers.
City Attorney Michael Gaudio said the water utility was running at a deficit and the increase was needed to correct that.
Velegol said the city’s water department lost about $420,000 in revenue when the Mountain State Carbon coke plant closed earlier this year, but previously lost about $280,000 when the company, a major water customer, has installed its own water treatment system.
He said the city also needed to replace its aging water meters, which have become so inefficient that city crews were forced to do 650 readouts last month.
Velegol said at the same time that the city still owed about $280,000 from a loan taken out for them.
The mayor said that although the city received a $3.1 million grant from the Army Corps of Engineers to upgrade its water treatment system, the city pulled local correspondence 25% of its Urban Redevelopment Action Grant Trust Fund, which it is later to restore.
Alfred DeAngelis, who was also a member of the city’s water board, said the water department also faced rising costs for equipment and materials.
He said a pump was recently replaced at a cost of approximately $65,000.
Velegol told those present at the hearing, “No one here around this (council) table wants to raise the rate.”
Resident Ruth “Rudi” Pearson said that while she was one of the volunteers who started Follansbee Community Days more than 20 years ago, she suggested that the city funds allocated to her could be better spent on alleviating her d ‘infrastructure.
She said the council had already contributed about $30,000 to the festival’s $100,000 budget.
But Velegol said his budget and the city’s contribution have since been reduced — to about $70,000 and $20,000, respectively. But he added that state law prohibits the city from using general funds to support the water utility.
Resident Jack Rohrabaugh said city officials should have raised the rate by $1 every two years, to soften the blow, and should have anticipated the coking plant’s closure.
Velegol said while the city’s rates were once among the lowest in the state, now they’re somewhere in the middle.
He said city officials didn’t expect Mountain State Carbon to close because the plant’s owners had recently invested $300 million in upgrades.
“Even the employees there didn’t know they were going to close it,” said Velegol.
In February, officials from Cleveland Cliffs, its owner, said the company was reducing the use of coke in its steel production in favor of other materials to reduce federally regulated carbon dioxide emissions.
Some residents were present to inquire about the impact of future changes on them.
John Chmielorski asked if the owners would be responsible for the cost of installing the new meters and was told that the cost of any new lines for the meters would be paid by them, but the meters would be purchased by the city to ensure compatibility.
Resident Duane Heck asked if the lines in the Hooverson Heights area will be replaced, adding that they are in poor condition.
Velegol acknowledged that pipe breaks are a recurring problem in this area and said that of the $9.2 million in planned upgrades to the city’s water treatment system, $5-6 million would be expected. be used for pipe replacement.
Following the meeting, the mayor was asked when the project should start.
Velegol said designs for the first phase, estimated at $3.1 million, are undergoing final review by state officials and following a competitive bidding process Led by the Army Corps of Engineers, work looks likely to begin in the spring.
In other matters, council approved the first reading of an ordinance raising the city’s building permit fee for industries to $50 for improvements costing up to $999 and $50 and $5 for each additional $1,000 of improvements.
The order also increases building permit fees for others to $25 for improvements costing up to $999 and $25 and $5 for each additional $1,000 of improvements.
City Manager Joe DiBartolomeo recommended the move, noting that under the city’s current rate structure, the maximum an industry could pay for millions of upgrades is $1,000.
The ordinance is expected to receive a second reading at the October 10 council meeting.