BUCKHANNON – Soaring fuel prices aren’t just placing stress on consumers’ budgets; gasoline and diesel prices topping $4 per gallon have also spurred cities and counties to adjust their budgets to stay in the black.
While the Upshur County Commission in March had to adjust its 2022-2023 fiscal year budget to reflect rising fuel costs, the City of Buckhannon’s Waste Board this past week voted to adopt a statewide recommendation to increase the fuel surcharge on customers’ bills.
At Buckhannon City Council’s regular meeting Thursday, city public works director Jerry Arnold reported the city’s Waste Board had voted to adopt a West Virginia Public Service Commission recommendation to increase the department’s fuel surcharge from 3.63 percent to 9.61. The increase will be in effect for the period from April 1 through June 30, 2022.
“It’s essentially going to raise [waste collection bills] $1,” Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner said at council’s April 7 meeting.
On Dec. 20, 2021, the PSC filed an order stating that certified solid waste carriers could add a 6.02 percent emergency fuel surcharge to customers’ bills to keep pace with increasing fuel costs. Then, on March 28, 2022, the PSC amended that general order, G.O. 56.4, which you can read here, to enable waste carriers to implement an across-the-board maximum fuel surcharge of 9.61 percent. The order is still effective through June 30, 2022 – the end of the current fiscal year.
Councilman CJ Rylands observed the Waste Department’s fuel surcharge on residential and commercial customers’ utility bills was essentially going to rise by 6.3 percent.
“If you’ve got a $100 [waste collection] bill, it’s going to go up six dollars and 30 cents,” Rylands said.
City recorder and information coordinator Randy Sanders noted the city’s Waste Board had opted not to increase the fuel surcharge to 6.02 percent when permitted to do so in February 2022. That increase was permitted via the Dec. 20, 2021, PSC general order.
“The board passed on the last PSC increase, but with the sharp rise in fuel costs, [the Waste Board decided to adopt the PSC recommendation],” Sanders said.
Skinner said the Waste Board hadn’t adopted the previous PSC recommendation of increasing the surcharge to 6.02 percent two months prior because “at the time, we were still OK when it came to fuel.”
City finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins said the Waste Board has spent approximately $129,000 on fuel since July 1, 2021, but has only collected about $69,000 in revenue through the current surcharge.
“It’s about a 22 percent increase in fuel, according to the Public Service Commission’s recommendation,” Jenkins said.
Skinner said city officials carefully analyze any rate increases recommended by PSC prior to deciding whether to implement them.
“The Waste Board, as Mr. Sanders pointed out, doesn’t just accept automatically what is handed down from the Public Service Commission,” Skinner said. “We consider it, discuss it and decide if it’s the right fit for our Waste Department. We did pass on the last [recommended fuel surcharge increase], but we’re at a point now where we’ve got to keep ourselves solvent with the sharp rise in fuel.”
Typically, rate and surcharge increases are approved by city utility boards, but then council must ultimately decide whether to approve those boards’ recommendations prior to the increases showing up on customers’ bills.
Waste Board meetings take place at 7:30 a.m. on the first Thursday of each month in Buckhannon City Hall.