New water rates will take effect soon so that Marlinton water customers can begin to pay their share of a $4.3 million project to upgrade the town’s water plant.
Marlinton Town Council approved an eight percent rate increase during its meeting on Monday night, although it received a Small Cities Block Grant (SCBG) of $500,000 for this fiscal year. Mayor Joe Smith explained that an increase now will reduce the pain of a second rate hike in the near future.
“The final project in the future, if we get the funding with the loans, we’re probably going to have to have a total of 15 to 20 percent increase in water rates,” he said. “I recommend that we go ahead with this proposed eight percent increase now, and then a year-and-a-half or two years down the road, when we’re into the project, we’ll make the second and final increase, versus waiting and slapping a 20 percent increase all at once on everybody.”
During a public hearing on the rate increase, members of the community commented.
“I understand we need to do this, but we’re really beginning to get up there, as far as costs, compared to other towns,” said business owner Nelson Hernandez. “We have one of the most expensive and it’s getting more. I can understand that there’s not much we can do.”
“It’s been 37 years of town councils and mayors that have let the water plant get into this position, and we all have to suffer for it now,” said business owner Mark Strauss. “I do hope that, in the future, you work on a bricks and mortar fund for repairs and maintenance of the new water plant, so that we don’t sit and do nothing for another 30 years.”
“If people would only see what goes through that water right now,” said Tom Barnisky. “The filtration system is not properly operating. Today, I took a water filter off of an ice machine and busted it open. The wife and I couldn’t figure out why we have to replace so many of these filters at $31 a whack. When I busted that filter open, it’s got a solid charcoal center in it. It was as brown as that chair right there. It was mud, and when you drink it, that’s what you’re drinking.”
Council approved the water rate increase on a 5-0 vote. Recorder Robin Mutscheller was not present because she was attending an election seminar in Charleston. The increase will add $8.28 to customers’ bimonthly bill.
Council also approved a bond ordinance, which will allow the town to borrow up to $408,000 for the water project, but not commit the town to the loan. Due to the receipt of the $500,000 SCBG and an anticipated additional $1 million, the Town expects to borrow $2.8 million to complete the water plant project. Water rates will increase again when financing on that money is finalized.
Plans for Tudor’s Biscuit World moving forward
Council considered two requests from Zach Chittum involving his property at the corner of Main Street and Third Avenue. Chittum requested a waiver to the floodplain ordinance, exactly the same as the one granted for the Nationwide Insurance building last year, which would allow ground floor construction one-tenth of a foot above flood level. Council granted the request on a 5-0 vote.
Chittum also requested that the Town abandon an alleyway directly north of his lots. Furthermore, the businessman requested an easement on the abandoned right-of-way to provide space for dumpsters for a proposed restaurant on the site.
Smith said he had investigated the issue and determined that the Town must hold a public hearing in order to abandon a right-of-way. All affected residents must be notified and provided an opportunity to respond to the proposed abandonment. Council approved moving forward with abandoning the right-of-way on a 5-0 vote.
Smith said Chittum was in the final negotiations to build a Tudor’s Biscuit World restaurant on the lots, which formerly contained the Old Bank Building and Dirt Bean Ohana.
“I was at the Chamber of Commerce meeting when he said he wanted to break ground on the first of March,” said Smith. “He made no bones about it at the Chamber meeting. He talked openly with several people about it. He told us he was very close to getting everything finalized. He didn’t make the official announcement but he talked about it.”
The mayor said Chittum was in discussions regarding building design.
“Tudor’s wants him to build their building, and he wants to build a building that is complementary to Marlinton,” said Smith.
In other business, Marlinton Council:
– Tabled action on a letter of support for a county-wide fire fee until more information is obtained;
– Voted to renew a six-month contract with the West Virginia State Police at a cost of $12,960;
– Approved reimbursement up to $250 for Mutscheller’s expenses at the election seminar, and;
– Approved a town holiday policy that will include all state holidays, except state election day.
The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for March 2 at 7 p.m.