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Second phase of sewer rate increase will be reflected in February 2019 bills

BUCKHANNON – The second step of Buckhannon’s 2017 two-phase sanitary sewer rate increase went into effect Dec. 3, 2018, but residents won’t notice a difference in the balance of their bills until February 2019.

At Buckhannon City Council’s most recent meeting Thursday, Dec. 6, city administrative and financial director Amberle Jenkins reminded council members and residents that an ordinance council approved in October 2017 calling for a two-phase 20 percent rate increase went into effect in early December.

“The final step of the sanitary sewer increase will take effect in December, but the billings won’t go out until around February, so that is the second step of that ordinance we adopted last year, in October 2017,” Jenkins told council at the meeting. “I wanted to go over that with you so you wouldn’t be wondering what’s going on with your sewer bill.”

Mayor David McCauley emphasized the rate increase had been necessary for the city and its sanitary board to stay in compliance with state law, which requires public utilities to maintain a one-eighth reserve fund in case of emergencies.

The city’s sewer board is one of the city’s four separate enterprise funds, in addition to the general fund (which pays for public safety expenses, street maintenance and much more), the water department and the waste department.

“We are required, as I understand it, by statute and administrative rule, to maintain a one-eighth reserve – that means 12.5 percent – of whatever our anticipated revenue is based upon the previous year’s revenue,” McCauley explained. “That’s in case we have an emergency, we’ve got a pool of money to turn to, and the state wants us to have that reserve.

“Historically, our sanitary board has had almost no reserve, so part of what we are accomplishing with this two-phase increase was to finally be able to not be written up anymore by auditors,” the mayor added. “We are now in compliance with that state mandate.”

Jenkins said McCauley’s assessment was correct.

The city implemented a rate increase in August 2016, but after officials realized the increase wasn’t sufficient to maintain operations and the required reserve fund, sanitary sewer board members commissioned a rate increase study.

The Charleston-based firm Smith, Cochran & Hicks completed the rate study in summer 2017.

The firm told the board and city officials they would need to pass a 20 percent rate increase to both meet operational needs and set aside the state-mandated reserve fund.

Following the ordinance’s passage on Oct. 19, 2017, the rate went into effect 45 days later on Dec. 3, 2017. Ordinance 419 called for the second 10 percent to be tacked on exactly 12 months later on Dec. 3, 2018.

According to the ordinance, rates on usage from Dec. 3, 2018 forward will vary from $6.82 to $12.06 per 1,000 gallons used, depending on level of usage. For more details, visit the city’s website, www.buckhannonwv.org, hover over “About the City” and click on “Ordinances.”

In other city news, fire chief J.B. Kimble, Kimble said that as part of the fire department’s Commission on Fire Accreditation International, or CFAI, process, the department is required to assemble an officer development program, part of which is outlining an officer rank structure. Another part is assembling a library of books that may be used to study for tests necessary to advance through the ranks.

“They recommend or demand that you have a library for officer development,” Kimble said, adding that the department had set aside money in the budget for the purchase of informational resources.

At Kimble’s request, council approved recommending to the Fire Civil Service Commission job descriptions for lieutenant and captain posts, both of which are tested positions.

“We’re not approving these positions tonight,” McCauley said. “We’re sending it to the Fire Civil Service Commission for them to kick it around a little bit and for them to make a recommendation of adoption of something back to us.”

McCauley said the fire civil service commission would likely send their recommendation back to council in January 2019.

“That’s what this is about, we’re not approving any positions or any new rank structures tonight, we’re just referring it to the fire civil service commission,” the mayor said.

City recorder Colin Reger made a motion to send the job descriptions to the FCSC, which was seconded by councilwoman Mary Albaugh.

In his report, Kimble also noted the accreditation process the department is undergoing has noticeably improved the efficiency of the BFD’s operations.

“We are down to now working with the 911 Center (Comm Center) with improving the dispatch time – I mean, we’re down to cutting seconds now, and when you look at seconds, that’s somebody’s life,” he said.

And although emergency call volume is up 12 percent, call-taking time has decreased by a minute. Firefighters have also sliced their response time.

“Our response time has went down over a minute, you know, getting out of the building. It’s a win-win for everybody,” Kimble said.

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