The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 23, 2013

Oak Hill Council talks sewage, drainage projects

By Brandi Underwood
Register-Herald Reporter

OAK HILL — Monday’s Oak Hill City Council meeting entertained more discussion concerning the tentative sewage rate increase, which will help diffuse the costs of the city’s $14 million sewer improvement project currently in the works.

The meeting began with a public hearing concerning the ordinance to increase sewage rates citywide. The first schedule of the increase, which is slated to begin May 2014, will consist of an 11% increase and raise current billing minimums from $21.64 to $24.

“It’s a two-step rate increase. The first step is about an 11 percent increase over present rates. That will go into effect in May 2014. The second step is another 11 percent increase and that will go into effect upon completion of the project,” explained Jim Kelsh, of Bowles Rice Attorneys.

Construction of the project is set to begin in early summer 2014, said Jonathan Carpenter, of Thrasher & Pentree Engineering.

The second phase of the rate increase will take affect at the project’s completion, which is estimated to be in May or June of 2015, Carpenter added.

With no community members in attendance to speak for or against the rate increase, the second reading of the ordinance was swiftly accepted.

In other business, council agreed to further pursue submitting an application to participate in the Home Rule project, which, if accepted, would allow the city to make some of their own laws and regulations.

Hannabass hopes that if the city’s application is accepted, the ordinances that result from the Home Rule project will help streamline existing ordinances to make his efforts as city manager and the efforts of council more efficient, he said.

Hannabass and the City of Oak Hill are working to lessen drainage issues throughout the city.

“When you reside on a city street, we don’t want water draining off of the road onto your property. We work very hard to prevent that from happening. It does, in instances, but we try not to let it. The most cost effective way to do that is with a ditch right beside the road.

“However, as a property owner, if you have a driveway, you need to put a piece of culvert in that allows you to have a functioning driveway,” Hannabass explained

Hannabass said that the cost of the culvert materials would be the resident’s expense, but the city would take care of the installation.

For an 18-inch pipe, Hannabass said that the cost will be roughly $200 per 20-foot section.

Currently, the city is planning to address the drainage issues on 23rd Street beginning in the spring, with more projects in the works.

“It’s not an easy project,” Hannabass said. “Hopefully, piecemeal, we can get some drainage issues solved.”

Lastly, Chief Whisman of the Oak Hill Police Department presented a new policy regarding the operation and maintenance of police vehicles.

Whisman presented a new policy to council that would put a 10-mile radius limit on the distance that police officers could live and be allowed to drive their cruiser to and from work.

“At this time, this policy would only affect one officer,” Whisman said.

Whisman said that he looked at the policies and procedures of other agencies when developing the new policies for the Oak Hill Police Department.

“In lieu of the fact that some of the accidents we’ve had, I think there needs to be a tighter control on the use of the vehicles,” said Whisman.

“I think we do have a high accident rate with our cruisers. It concerns me. Our high insurance rate concerns me,” Whisman said. “These steps are things that I came up with that I think would help.”

In addition, beginning Thursday, the entire Oak Hill Police Department fleet will be equipped with GPS trackers.

“Monitors will be built into vehicles that monitor driving habits, and it rates the drivers. It tells me where the vehicles are and what they’re doing,” said Whisman. “A lot of police departments are going to that, and a lot of companies already have it, Jan-Care Ambulance for instance.

“These are just a few steps I’m taking to diminish our vehicle accident rate,” Whisman said.

Councilman-at-Large Tom Oxley said that he agreed with the new policies, as the purpose of policeman driving their vehicle home was to be able to respond to a call more quickly, if needed.

“When the officers live too far away, having their cruiser at home isn’t doing the city much good,” Oxley said.

The council unanimously accepted the new policy.

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com