WELLSBURG - Citing rising costs for operation and a deficit attributed to money owed by the district, the Hammond Public Service District has raised its rates.
The increase will affect the July 1 bills for the district's 923 water customers in southern areas of Brooke County.
The district's base rate of $10.68 for 3,000 gallons per month has been raised to $12.10 per month.
According to the state Public Service Commission, the average residential customer will see an increase of about $4.89, and the average commercial customer will see an increase of about $8.87. Both are increases of about 13.2 percent.
The state PSC recommended the increase, citing the district's cost to operate the water treatment system and to pay $140,559 owed for the construction of its water treatment plant.
State PSC officials said taking into consideration its debt, the district was operating at a deficit of $20,956.
"If we don't raise it, we will be going into debt every year," said board member Lloyd Van Horn.
Board member Jack Krzywdik noted it's the district's first rate increase in nine years and the state PSC recommends an increase every three years to keep up with rising costs.
He said there would have been less impact on customers, had increases been made in such intervals.
The state PSC recommended new rates for residential, commercial and industrial customers after the board applied for a rate increase in November but didn't specify the amount, asking the PSC's recommendation instead.
Krzywdik, Van Horn and David McGowan were appointed by the Brooke County Commission to the board in September after the board's previous three members resigned.
Krzywdik said he and other board members aren't happy about the rate increase, since they live in the district and pay the water bills also, but it's necessary.
Bob Sadler, the district's superintendent, said the district has been in the process of making about $200,000 in repairs to the water treatment plant and clean its reservoir. He said such measures were needed to improve the water's quality and meet state regulations.
Other improvements eyed by the board include replacing water lines near the former Windsor Coal property and the system used to measure the level of the Chapman Heights water tank and, in the next few years, re-painting two water tanks serving the district. When they are re-painted, the tanks must be drained and refilled. The last time the two were painted, it cost about $86,000, Hammond officials said.
Board members were asked if they are considering a merger with other public service districts.
"We're open to discussion," Krzywdik said. But he added if the district were to merge with another, it would be on the condition that its customers would be represented on the merged district's board.
Hammond officials said the increase isn't spurred by its contribution to a planned emergency tie-in with Wellsburg water lines.
The Hammond district has allocated $5,000 toward the $180,000 project. It involves establishing links between water lines serving the district, Wellsburg and Beech Bottom that may be used if any of the water systems are interrupted by flooding, line breaks and other emergencies.
Currently crews with the district must set up temporary hoses connecting Hammond's system to the Ohio County Public Service District.
In addition to Hammond, funds are being contributed for the project by Wellsburg, Beech Bottom, the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, Chesapeake Energy, the Brooke County Commission and the county's economic development authority.
Sadler said Hammond and other groups involved are awaiting approval for the project from an administrative law judge with the state PSC before seeking bids from contractors. He hopes work on the tie-ins can begin in later summer or early fall.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)