Pictured from left are Randy Watson and David Watson from the Thrasher Group, resident and businessman Tom Shaw, commission president Sam Nolte, commissioner Terry Cutright and commissioner Kristie Tenney. Also pictured taking notes is county administrator Carrie Wallace.

Commission tables decision on Route 33 West sewer line extension until month’s end

BUCKHANNON – Upshur County Commissioners on Thursday tabled their decision on utility installation along Route 33 west of Buckhannon until Oct. 31.

At a previous commission meeting Sept. 5, the Tennerton Public Service District and the City of Buckhannon presented options for the installation of sewer utility lines along Route 33 west of Buckhannon. At that meeting, representatives from the engineering firm, The Thrasher Group, asked the commission to give them time to put together an estimate for the project on behalf of the Tennerton PSD.

Senior project engineer with the Thrasher Group David Watson handed out their preliminary construction cost estimate, project cost summary and a project schedule at the most recent meeting, which took place Thursday, Oct. 4.

Watson said the total construction cost was just a little over $4 million – or $4,086,000 to be exact – and the total project cost came out to $5.1 million.

He noted those figures would pay for extending the sewer utility line to the Upshur-Lewis county lines and the J.F. Allen Company property.

“I don’t have the funding outlined on here, but it would be a combination of loan and grant funding through the USDA Rural Development and the infrastructure council – probably 40 percent grant and 60 percent loan,” Watson said.

The schedule Watson handed out said they anticipate the completion of the project in 2023.

Sam Ludlow, sanitary and storm sewer engineer for the City of Buckhannon, said the city currently has two available options for completing the project.

“We have actively on the table two proposals, one of which we estimate the cost to be $300,000,” Ludlow said. “The sanitary board has committed $100,000 to that, and if the benefiting parties can contribute the $200,000, we can have the project financed … if they would choose to accept annexation, the City of Buckhannon will provide the benefiting parties share and contribute that to the sanitary board and again, we’ve got the project financed.”

In other words, the city’s Sanitary/Sewer Board has committed $100,000 to the project. To complete the financing, the customers who would benefit from the proposed sewer line could either join the city through annexation or contribute a combined $200,000 to the project.

Ludlow said this estimate is based on requests for service between Red Rock Road and Finks Run Interchange.

“We are talking about a $2-million-dollar investment the Buckhannon Sewer Department has made, and that is not all Buckhannon Sewer Department money, but we have built almost $2-million-dollars-worth of sewers west of Buckhannon in a series of smaller projects,” Ludlow said.

Ludlow said the city has been actively engaged in the area between Red Rock Road and Finks Run Interchange.

“We’re prepared to build sewers and in fact, a number of people here today were at the Sanitary Board Meeting a couple of weeks ago, and we believe that we can build the north side this coming summer,” Ludlow said. “That’s contingent upon working out the financial participation.”

Community member and business owner Tom Shaw said annexation is something he would never be interested in.

“To me it doesn’t really matter – I mean, we’ve been out there for 10 years already, and I can wait another five or 10 years,” Shaw said. “I put in my own sewer system, my own water well and when my well goes dry, I will build another well … but I am not going to be annexed by the City of Buckhannon because I already did the numbers and all my buildings out there, our customers, will have to pay a lot more in B&O (business and occupation) tax.”

Other property owners in attendance at the meeting expressed opposition to being annexed and did not like the idea of being charged $200,000.

Owner of Corridor H Tire David Anderson said splitting $200,000 upfront would be difficult with the number of participants they may have.

“I know we have come up with that number, $20,000, as an example but here’s the deal – that would mean it would need to be split between 10 people to be $200,000, and at this point, I don’t think I can even get five,” Anderson said, “which would raise it to $40,000, so here’s the issue: it won’t be $20,000.”

“I know that’s a reference to go by, but I know it won’t be 10 people and it would be very lucky to even be five,” he added.

Commissioner Terry Cutright said if the city was funding it, and if the city would put the money up front, the Oct. 4 meeting would have been unnecessary. However, city councilman Robbie Skinner said that would be impossible because those funds would have to come out of the general fund.

(According to the way the City of Buckhannon is set up financially, there are five separate enterprise funds, and general fund money which supports public safety, streets, etc. is not to be intermingled with the Sanitary/Sewer Department money because the sanitary department is a distinct entity or ‘enterprise fund.’)

“At that conjecture, it would have to come out of our general fund, and it’s not right,” Skinner said. “We cannot take money that is raised inside these corporate limits and spend it outside – we cannot do that. We have responsibility per state code, per city code to represent the interests of our constituents in our businesses in our community.”

“In order for us to do that, the only way forward would be that it would have to be part of the city limits,” he added. “We can’t take it out and put it in because these funds are different. These enterprise funds are different: Water is separate, and sewer is separate, trash is separate, and then you have our general fund.”

Director of Public Works for the City of Buckhannon Jerry Arnold said annexation comes into play when the general funds are needed for sanitary sewer operations.

“Annexation come into play whenever you use general funds money to supplement sanitary sewer operations,” Arnold said. “It would be the same as if this county commission would build something in Lewis County, with Upshur County money. That’s the simplest way to put it. The sewer line can be put out there if the contributing parties will contribute to the $200,000 to get it there.”

Arnold said there may be another alternative to having the benefiting parties pay the $200,000 up front.

“I don’t have any board support or council support yet, but it was just brought up that we’ve done this on other projects,” Arnold said. “If the Sanitary Board would agree, and again I need to get their approval, if they would agree to [cover] all upfront costs to realize the project, would the folks be open to a surcharge? [It would be] a monthly surcharge to your bill. We currently do that in some other areas with sewer line extensions.”

Property owners said they would be open to the idea if they knew how much the charge would be, but Arnold said he would have to get approval before he could know how much the charge would amount to.

City Attorney Tom O’Neil expressed the city is against Tennerton PSD expanding its service area.

City attorney Tom O’Neill at Thursday’s afternoon commission meeting on how to proceed with the installation of a sanitary sewer line on Route 33, west of Buckhannon. The City of Buckhannon and Tennerton PSD each want to undertake the project.

“I think the city has registered its objections to Tennerton PSD having its service expanded in this area, not only in light of the city’s history of engagement with the PSD but the existence of the city’s existing Certificate of Convenience and Necessity for this area,” O’Neil said. “The city is authorized today to service that area through the Public Service Commission, and the city is willing to serve this area through the Public Service Commission, and has been engaged for quite some time, for years.”

Commissioner Terry Cutright made a motion to move forward with the proper procedures to extend Tennerton PSD’s service area; however, the motion died due to a lack of a second.

Commissioner Kristie Tenney motioned to table the decision until the meeting can reconvene at 1 p.m. Oct. 31 to give the city time to get approval for Arnold’s new proposal of using surcharges. The city will also bring back an estimate that includes the south side, and Tennerton PSD will update their estimate to include Finks Run.

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