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Buckhannon city recorder Randy Sanders addresses the Upshur County Commission at its June 17 meeting.

City, county to reconvene in August to discuss splitting cost of proposed Tennerton Water Tank rehab project

BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon and the Upshur County Commission will meet in August to decide if they will split the cost of the Tennerton Water Storage Tank rehabilitation project.

Representatives from the city attended the June 17 Upshur County Commission meeting to ask the commission to split the cost of the project, with both entities utilizing their American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funds.

“We’re all now at the threshold to some great opportunities with the American Recovery Act. We can take a long look at our infrastructure and do some rehabilitation across the nation,” City Recorder Randy Sanders said. “We have to look at it wisely; we have to take a strong steady approach to it and do as much as possible to utilize the funds in a responsible way.”

According to a previous article, the City of Buckhannon is receiving nearly $2.4 million in ARP money from the federal government.

At its June 3 meeting, council approved proceeding with nine water and sewer infrastructure-related projects, one of which is rehabilitating the inside of the Tennerton Water Storage Tank. The city decided to ask the county to split the cost of that project 50/50 since many residents who use water from the tank are Adrian Public Service District customers.

“I’m here to request the Upshur County Commission join the City of Buckhannon in a venture that will help us utilize the funds as wisely as possible,” Sanders said. “The one venture that I’m targeting is the Tennerton Water Storage Tank, and to put in the necessary rental of several pressurized tanker trucks during the 2022 construction season, using funding from the American Recovery Fund (American Rescue Plan) with 50 percent of rehabilitation costs coming from the City of Buckhannon allocation and 50 percent coming from the county allocation.”

The total cost of the project and pressurized tanker truck rental will amount to $716,125, Sanders said, citing figures calculated by city engineer Jay Hollen.

Sanders said the city was bringing this project to the commission because the Tennerton Water Storage Tank mostly serves customers outside the city limits.

“It should be noted the existing Tennerton Water Storage Tank applies not only to Buckhannon-Upshur High School, to the West Virginia State Police detachment, to city customers in the southern end of the existing water distribution system, but it also supplies a lot of the potable water used by the Adrian Public Service District on a daily basis,” Sanders said.

“I think it only makes sense because Upshur County does include Buckhannon – it includes the residents of the city – so we’re all in this together,” Sanders added. “We’re all looking at the same objectives to move forward, and this is a great opportunity.”

Upshur County Commissioner Sam Nolte asked how long the tank will last after rehabilitation, and Hollen, the city engineer, said about three decades.

“The new tank will last for about 30 years,” Hollen said. “The current one was constructed in 1977, right before the high school [was relocated and opened] … That is the true reason that water storage tank went in – to offer fire protection and water to the high school that was being relocated at that time, as well as providing potable water to the very beginning stages of the Adrian Public Service District.”

Hollen said the project would be completed during the 2022 construction season.

“Due to school being in session, we do not want to take any chances with something going wrong and forcing the schools to shut down, so we’ve automatically pushed that project to June of 2022,” Hollen said. “We’re going to have to approach the Board of Education and see if they can have their summer school at the middle school, to just take care of that liability, but we want to complete the project between June and August of 2022.”

Upshur County commissioner Terry Cutright said the commission had planned on using some of their ARP funds to give money directly to the county Public Service Districts.

“We would be giving you around $350,000 of the county’s money, which we intended to put toward the PSDs to try and help them get on their feet,” Cutright said.

He also asked the city to postpone their upcoming water rate increase, which was approved later that day at council’s regular meeting following a public hearing.

“What I would like to recommend to the city or the Water Board is possibly holding off on their 42 percent increase, because that’s a direct increase to the citizens of the PSDs and Associations that are getting water, so to give you $357,000 of their money and then you charge them 42 percent more for the water you’re selling …” Cutright said.

Pictured, from left, are commissioner Sam Nolte, commission president Kristie Tenney and commissioner Terry Cutright at the commission’s June 17 meeting.

According to a previous article, the new rate increase, outline in Ordinance 451, amounts to a 25 percent rate increase for City of Buckhannon residential water customers but a 42 percent increase for Public Service Districts and Water Associations. The article notes that the cost of providing water distribution services has increased and the Public Service Commission of West Virginia has imposed new requirements on water systems related to financial reserves.

Sanders said the Water Board is an enterprise fund, meaning its finances must be maintained separately from the city’s general fund and can’t be comingled. City enterprise funds include the Water Department, Sanitary Department and Waste Department, all of which have their own boards.

“That’s an enterprise fund, and we have to operate that enterprise fund in the black,” Sanders said. “We’re required by the PSC (Public Service Commission) to pay the bills from the income from [generated by water users] that we’re running short on, and we’re not allowed to supplement that from other revenue,” Sanders said. “We are now short on our bond, so the PSC is now looking at Buckhannon and saying, ‘Get your house in order, you have to raise rates, you’re not [meeting the requirements],’ so we’re at a crossroads – if we can’t pay our bills out of the funds generated from the revenues of selling water, we’re in trouble with the state.”

Mayor of Buckhannon Robbie Skinner said the city will need to start evaluating fees on a more regular basis in the future.

“We’ve had some discussions at the council level that we need to look at these rates more frequently than we have been. We try to do the best we can to keep the rates as low as we can for our customers, but with that, we’ve gone five, six, seven years without a rate increase and the cost of doing business just continues to go up and we have not been keeping up with that,” Skinner said. “Every three years, we need to be looking at one of our enterprise boards. Right now, it’s water. When I first became a council member in 2016, it was sewer.”

Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner speaks at the commission’s June 17 meeting.

Skinner said the city was hoping to split the cost of this project with the county so it can afford to work on other infrastructural items with its ARP funding.

“We’re looking to partner with you so that we each spend less money on a project that benefits people, because if we spent all of it on this entire project, then we’re not able to complete some other projects that are also of dire need within the corporate limits,” Skinner said.

According to a previous My Buckhannon article, some of these other projects include the North Locust Street sanitary sewer project upgrade on the Sanitary Department side and the chlorine alarm and replacement of the filter at the raw water intake/settled NTU detection units on the Water Department side. 

Nolte asked Hollen if the city would be willing to help the PSDs identify and resolve some problems, like ones with meters and water lines, for instances, if the county and city do decide to partner.

“I know that the Water Department is looking at some leak detection equipment hardware and software that is based on acoustics, and then we could do soundings in various parts of the city, and I know Kelly [Arnold, Buckhannon’s Water Department Superintendent] has really been a proponent for that, and I would like to see that,” Hollen said. “If we got together with the PSDs and they could identify some trouble areas, we could assist in some way, shape or form.”

“I’m not speaking for the Water Board,” Hollen continued. “This is something we would have to take to them, but that cooperative effort, I think would benefit everybody.”

Commission president Kristie Tenney said the county will not receive all the details about their ARP funding until the end of July and asked if the city and the commission could meet again in August to discuss the project.

“I would like to see us place the project on a list of possible items that may qualify,” Tenney said. “Ms. Perry [assistant county administrator Tabatha Perry] has been compiling lists for us of possible projects that have come to our attention, so if they would agree to do that, I’d like to place this on our list so that we can definitely address that when the final paperwork is done at the end of July, and I really love the idea if we could work together.”

Nolte said a major priority is to find a way to help the PSDs get back on their feet.

“I would like to see us try to find a sufficient way of helping them solve their problems because I think that’s the only way that they’re going to get healthy and hopefully be able to find some money, so they can handle the repairs and maintenance on their lines,” Nolte said. “Terry (Cutright, county commissioner) has been heavily involved in talking to a lot of PSDs.”

Nolte said many people have mistakenly thought money allocated to Public Service Districts for water or sewer line expansions could be utilized to make repairs or upgrade problematic lines, but that’s not the case.

“A lot of folks don’t realize, because they see on our agenda that there’s for $5 million going to PSDs for waterlines, [that the funds cannot be used for repairs], but that’s for expansion, and there’s never really any money for repairs and maintenance,” Nolte said.

The city and the commission agreed to meet in August, possibly Aug. 19, to discuss the project again.

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