KEYSER, W.Va. — The Mineral County Commission voted to abandon plans to merge the Frankfort and Fountain public service districts Tuesday evening, following a hearing that showed strong community opposition.
About 30 residents attended the public hearing, and no one spoke in favor of the proposal. The merger process for the two districts, which provide water and sewer services for nearly 3,800 households combined, began when the commission voted unanimously to do so during a June 22 meeting.
The commission hired former county coordinator Mike Bland to work as a consultant on the merger process. Commission President Richard “Doc” Lechliter said Bland was “unbiased” and familiar with the issues at hand, and therefore a good choice.
Bland said that while “at this time, they don’t need a rate increase” for either public service district to operate as needed, a future hike for both districts is likely to be necessary “with or without the merger.”
The merger would have led to a 7.6% rate hike for Frankfort customers and nearly 10% for those served by Fountain, Bland said. Those increases would amount to about $3 and $6, respectively, he said.
While they had originally approached Commissioner Jerry Whisner about the possibility of the merger, the members of the Fountain district’s board penned a July 16 letter to the commission against its enactment that PSD secretary Fred LeMasters read for the record during the hearing.
Since it began operating more than 30 years ago, LeMasters said, the Fountain PSD has grown from serving 170 customers to almost 800 between residents in Fountain and Burlington. They consistently achieve higher water potability rankings than average for small utilities, he said, “and has a reputation for being one of the best, if not the best small water system in West Virginia.”
The merger, per the letter LeMasters read, would not help “but would rather be a hindrance and would have a negative impact on the operation of our facility.”
“In conclusion, we all feel that it would not be in the best interest of the communities we serve to proceed with the merging of the Fountain and Frankfort public service districts,” LeMasters read. “This is not the time to implement such radical changes that lack the support of the communities we all represent.”
Doug Brelsford of Frankfort PSD, which serves customers from Wiley Ford to Fort Ashby, said the board would honor and support whatever decision the Fountain utility favored.
“We respect the job that they do, and we are going to honor their request, and that’s the way we feel about it,” Brelsford said.
Whisner said the commission was “not pushing (the merger). It’s just that we thought this would be the best thing for the area.”
Whisner also noted that the merger could have been used to connect homes in the Parrill Hollow area to the public water supply.
“We as commissioners, we are your servants. If you don’t want the merger, we’re not going to push it down your throats,” Whisner said. “... In the long run, it would have been a better thing for the citizens. We’d be able to stand in areas that need water and need sewer that now maybe we might not be able to.”