Cumberland Times-News

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May 23, 2013

County: Increase in water rates planned

CUMBERLAND — CUMBERLAND — Many customers in Allegany County will likely see a small increase in their water and sewer rates during the upcoming fiscal year.

Customers in a few districts could see more substantial rate hikes, said Mark Yoder, the county’s utilities division chief. A few rates went down, mainly sewer front footage charges, Yoder pointed out.

Cresaptown and Jennings Run customers will see the largest fee increases under the proposal. Jennings Run customers could see an $8 increase per quarter for sewer surcharges, while Cresaptown customers will pay $9 more per quarter for water service fees, according to a report from county staff, presented by Yoder.

Increased costs for Cresaptown customers will be phased in over three years, with another increase planned in 2015.

Cresaptown customers could also lose an odd perk, not available to other county residents, too.

Cresaptown customers receive 6,000 gallons of water as part of their minimum charge. That perk should be phased out over time, Yoder said. County officials have held public meetings with customers about the increases. Yoder made a presentation to commissioners about the rates at their Thursday business meeting at county offices on Kelly Road.

Most increases will be $2 to $3 per quarter or less — that’s about a dollar a month, Yoder said. Most of the increases are because consent orders with the state required expensive upgrades to water and sewer plants.

Rates have been held artificially low, causing the water and wastewater systems to operate at a deficit. The current policy is to make small increases on a regular basis rather than a whopper of a hit to customers after years of no increases, Yoder said.

All funding for water and sewer comes from users of the system, no money is used from the general fund, Yoder said.

The county will likely be adding more customers, as well.

“Federal drinking water and wastewater standards will continue to force most small community systems out of business and have them seeking absorption into ... the county,” according to the staff report.

The rate hikes will not be effective until approved by county commissioners. The proposed increases have already been passed, in resolution form, by the Allegany County Sanitary Commission.

Rates could increase during the fiscal year should water and sewer suppliers to the county increase rates.

The cities of Cumberland and Keyser, W.Va., are planning rate increases, Yoder said.

Cumberland’s rates for handling county wastewater increased 15 percent during 2011, resulting in about $250,000 in increased costs per year. Cumberland is expected to add another 15 percent in 2014.

Keyser’s rates could rise as much as 30 percent, Yoder said. Those increases will be added to the usage rate costs.

“The county must continue to seek to achieve more favorable water and sewer rates from the municipalities. ... Water purchase costs account for over half of our total water systems budgets,” the staff report reads.

The trouble is that even with rate increases, the county’s budget can’t meet needed capital improvements and other upgrades, let alone decent salaries for skilled employees, the staff report said.

The county utilities department has faced a loss of employees because of the relatively low salaries paid, according to the staff report. “Our current building structure does not allow for significant capital improvements,” Yoder said. “We’re getting stretched further and further ... both in number of customers and geographically across the county.”

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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