By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer
At its regular Shinnston City Council meeting Monday, council adopted the 2014 Utility Improvement Plan, giving the go-ahead to move forward with the four-phase initiative that has already increased water and sewage rates this month in an effort to overhaul the present almost-40-year-old systems.
In presenting this plan last month at a special meeting, Assistant City Manager Travis L. Blosser said the plan is necessary to not only improve present water and sewage systems, but to also proactively prevent and address any future quality and delivery issues.
Blosser said the main problem that has to be resolved is the “aging water-delivery structure”.
The council passed, upon first reading, the ordinance for the second water rate increase of 12.5 percent, which is slated to start this December. Included in that resolution is a third phase, which is a six percent increase for a $3-million mainline replacement and extension. This third phase is projected to begin in February 2016. A public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 29, and both phases will require submission to the Public Service Commission (PSC), the state utilities regulatory agency, for approval.
Upon first reading, the council also passed the ordinance for a sewage rate increase, which will also begin in December with a 28 percent increase. This will also be put out at a public hearing at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 29.
More than a dozen local residents attended the regular meeting — many expressing concerns and asking questions about the rate hikes.
One attendee, Marion Russell, said that a “67 percent [rate hike] was outrageous” for many, including senior citizens.
“They don’t have that kind of money to pay that rate,” he said.
But Blosser explained that it is not a total 67 percent but is an average and not an addition of the increases. “It’s an average of what the customer’s water usage is based on their billing,” he said.
“I want to make sure the facts are out there,” Blosser said. “My goal is to make people’s lives better.”
Blosser said he is a proponent of “transparency” and is willing to meet with any resident and provide them with any information they request on the utilities rate hikes or any other concern they may have.
In other council news:
• The council gave first reading to the ordinance to abandon the alley off upper Walnut Street and to clarify that it is not city property. While the city had made some utilities upgrades at the location, upon review and recommendation by the city attorney, the city will not be considered for any litigation regarding the area, as it is private property.
• The council passed a resolution to accept the state “Underage Drinking Grant” of $7,000 to renovate a trailer donated by the Shinnston Community Band. The trailer will be equipped as a DUI trailer to be used by law enforcement at DUI checkpoints.
• The council voted to table the city manager contract to seek legal opinion by the city attorney regarding requirements to advertise the position publicly.
• New city attorney Trey Simmerman was sworn in by Mayor Sammy J. DeMarco to replace retiring city attorney Thomas R. Michael.