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Water rate increase hearing held during Town Council meeting

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Jan 15, 2021


SHEPHERDSTOWN — Twenty-seven members of the Shepherdstown community tuned into Zoom for Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting.

The high attendance was due to the meeting’s public hearing, before the final vote on a proposed ordinance, which would increase water rates in the amount of five percent and increase the returned check fee from $15 to $30 for customers of the water system operated by the Corporation of Shepherdstown. The town, according to Mayor Jim Auxer, would not receive any financial benefit from the returned check fee increase.

The ordinance was unanimously passed by the town council, after an hour of discussion. It will now be filed with the West Virginia Public Service Commission, and will go into effect this summer, unless the commission receives three valid complaints against the ordinance to prevent its approval without further investigation.

“The water treatment plant improvements — this has been ongoing. This has been something the water board’s been looking at,” said town engineer Jeff Ekstrom. “In 2012, a comprehensive study was done on the town water system, and a priority was put in place on what needed to be done.”

According to Ekstrom, all but one of the improvements on the prioritization list have been completed. Half of the final improvements’ cost will be paid with the money from a cashed bond. The other half of the final improvements’ cost will be covered by an $83,000 loan, which is the reason for the water rate increase.

“We want to do the best we can, without increasing rates too high,” Ekstrom said. “We don’t need to make [the rate increase] effective until we receive West Virginia Public Service Commission approval, cash out the bond and put out bids for the project. At the earliest, it’ll be in July.”

According to lawyer Hoy Shingleton, Jr., town accountant David Decker conducted a couple of tests to identify the necessary rate increase, before proposing it to the Water Board. The five percent increase, Decker found, was necessary to pay off the town’s debt from the loan.

The final water system project, according to Ekstrom, will bring the town’s water systems up-to-par with the state’s and West Virginia Environmental Protection Agency’s municipality recommendations. Project improvements will include installing a permanent intake point from Town Run, as a secondary water source for the town, in the case of an emergency; adding an emergency generator to the water department; replacing the water pumps; and updating the current water filtration system to include an ultraviolet treatment for bacteria that survive traditional filtration methods.

While some attendees voiced concern over the town’s choice to designate Town Run as its permanent secondary water source, Ekstrom assured them it would be carefully monitored for any possible contamination issues in the future. According to Auxer, Shepherd University will be conducting the monitoring.

“The municipality will be required to ensure it will not impact the water quality of that stream,” Ekstrom said. “Town Run is basically controlled and regulated by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources as public lands. The Jefferson County Health Department has requirements that will require additional testing to be done, treating it as a primary source.”

Along with the public hearing, the Town Council also unanimously approved the appointment of Carmen Slater to the Planning Commission. Developments on the town’s new website and email list database were also reported to be close to completion by councilmen Jim Ford and Marty Amerikaner, respectively.