The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 5, 2013

Ronceverte sewer rate hike plan postponed

RONCEVERTE — Citing newly-obtained legal advice, Ronceverte City Council voted unanimously to withdraw a proposed sewer rate hike from consideration Monday evening.

The controversial proposal, which was introduced at last month’s council session, called for an immediate sewer bill raise averaging 15 percent, followed upon “substantial completion” of construction of the city’s new wastewater treatment plant by a doubling of rates. The $28 million plant is expected to be operational sometime in 2016.

The rate hike measure, along with a companion ordinance changing the city’s sewer use regulations to prevent customers from flushing substances that could damage the system or could not be adequately treated before discharge into the Greenbrier River, were both taken out of play Monday.

Both ordinances were originally scheduled for a public hearing and second, final reading at Monday’s meeting.

Mayor David Smith explained that the ordinances were withdrawn on the advice of counsel. He said the city’s legal firm — Spilman, Thomas & Battle — “had some adjustments they wanted to make” to the ordinances.

“We knew after the last meeting that (the rate hike) was going to have to be withdrawn,” Smith said.

“We will offer (the ordinances) again whenever the attorneys finish doing their thing,” he said.

Even though both measures passed a first reading in October, the city will now have to begin the process anew, re-doing the first reading and vote, followed by a public hearing and second reading and vote.

Although the changes recommended by the attorneys were not specified, they are not expected to be substantive, as Smith referred to the review now under way as “fine-tuning” the ordinances.

As originally proposed, the charge for city customers would rise from the current level of $13.08 to $15 immediately and then to $28 in 2016 for the first 1,000 gallons of usage and from $8.61 to $10 and then on to $20 for each subsequent 1,000 gallons. The “bulk rate” that the city charges Greenbrier County Public Service District No. 1, serving Lewisburg and Fairlea, would rise in two steps by a similar percentage.

If the new plant comes in under budget, or if grant funds arrive in hoped-for amounts, the 2016 rate increase will not be as steep, according to Smith.

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