City officials to convene with Public Service Districts Sept. 29 to discuss water rates, the impact of leaks and more

BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon Water Board met Thursday morning and voted unanimously to set up a public meeting for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, with all of the local Public Service Districts for the purpose of sharing information.

Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner said city officials had been discussing having this meeting for some time.

“Teresa (Summers, the mayor’s secretary) has been working on this for some time to get a date that works for everyone in the PSDs,” Skinner said. “The meeting will take place on that date at 6 p.m. here at Buckhannon City Hall in Council Chambers. We will invite all of the PSDs that purchase water from us to come and have an information sharing meeting.”

Skinner said Summers will follow up with a letter to the PSDs letting them know the date and time was approved and inviting them to come to the meeting, which is open to the public.

Councilman David McCauley, a newly appointed Water Board member, asked that the meeting be described not just a meeting, but as a ‘workshop.’

“I think Jay’s (Jay Hollen, engineer for the City of Buckhannon) new chart which shows this water loss and other information that we know – there are so many elements we need to impress upon them,” McCauley said. “We need to impress upon them they need to do better with leaks – with the federal monies that are out there is no excuse. These projects have to be undertaken. The toll this water loss takes on the City of Buckhannon Water Plant equipment is difficult to isolate and point to month by month. But we know over a course of years, if a pump is supposed to last 15 or 20 years and we are making that thing work twice as hard as it needs to be, the longevity of our equipment is going to challenge us.”

“The only way we are going to consider improvements to the plant or a new plant would be to greatly increase the water rates for everyone in the system,” McCauley added. “They need to appreciate that we are all in this together.”

McCauley said the costs will not all be absorbed by the City of Buckhannon.

“We own the plant,” Skinner said. “They are a customer (the PSDs) of our system, and I agree with you. We need to impress upon them the impact it has when their systems fail, what that does to our plant and its longevity and the functionality we have to work with here.”

PSDs throughout the county are bulk customers of the city, which maintains the only water treatment plant in the area.

Skinner said the City of Buckhannon shares its meeting minutes with the PSDs every month and said they strive to be transparent.

“We began talking about the water rate increases in January and we put it into effect in August, and the PSDs came and told us they felt blindsided and said they felt we were raising rates just to raise rates,” Skinner explained. “That was frustrating because we all felt we were very transparent. We feel this meeting will be an additional effort to be more transparent.”

Skinner said the goal for the future would be to have meetings with the PSDs which purchase water from Buckhannon twice a year so the PSDs can understand how Buckhannon came to the determination on setting needed rate increases.

“We are not just raising the rates; we have a method for why we have rate increases,” Skinner said. “I think they need to understand what it costs for us to have a Class IV water plant and what that means and what the going rate is for an operator around the region because if we lose our Class IV [water plant] operators, we go into a boil water advisory which is a killer for economic development and quality of life and it gives the city a ‘black eye’ that we obviously do not want to have.”

Skinner said that he feels they have a great opportunity to work on a great presentation for the meeting.

“I want us to send them out of here with the knowledge that the City of Buckhannon has their act together and the reason they do everything is they have data to back up everything they do,” Skinner said. “If we can get some of the PSDs to look at data the way we look at data, it will help across the board. And we are not just going to throw them to the wolves and leave them to figure it out – we are here to help.”

McCauley said the communication needs to go both ways and said these meetings, if held every six months, would help open that communication.

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