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Marlinton Council raises water rates

Plant Manager Dale McKenney in the Marlinton Water Plant. Engineers have advised the Town Council to upgrade the aging plant or face the possibility of a total malfunction.
Plant Manager Dale McKenney in the Marlinton Water Plant. Engineers have advised the Town Council to upgrade the aging plant or face the possibility of a total malfunction.
A senior state infrastructure official and an engineer told Marlinton Town Council in August that the town had no choice other than to upgrade its failing water plant. Otherwise, the experts said, the town will have no functional water system.

During its meeting Monday night, Council began the process to obtain funding for the water plant project. The first step is to obtain a loan for engineering design work.

Attorney Todd Swanson, with Charleston law firm Steptoe and Johnson, presented Council with a bond ordinance and a water rate ordinance for approval. The bond ordinance will allow the town to borrow up to $405,000 for engineering design work.

“It authorizes the Town to borrow up to $405,000 for the design loan for the water project,” said Swanson. “Right now, the way the budget is, we anticipate that it’s going to cost about $340,000. We always do a little bit more, in case bids come in higher than what we expected.”

Swanson said several banks would be solicited for a loan deal, including local banks, and that bank loans are available with interest rates just slightly higher than government loans. Once the best loan deal is selected, Council will have the option to cancel the loan.

The water rate ordinance will allow the town to pay off the loan by raising town water rates 16 percent. Marlinton’s base water rate for 4,000 gallons is currently $51.72 per two months. The rate will increase to $60 early next year, 45 days after the rate ordinance is approved on third reading.

Council approved the rate ordinance and the bond ordinance, on first readings, by a 4-0 vote. Councilmembers David Zorn and Loretta Malcomb were not present. The town has not raised water rates since 2010.

Council discussed the inactive Marlinton Building Commission, which was formed in 2003 to obtain land for a community activity center. The Building Commission accomplished its sole mission to obtain property for a community center, but Parks and Recreation became the lead agency and chose a different site, next to Marlinton Elementary School. Since then, all of the Building Commission’s members’ terms have expired and the Commission has become inactive.

Mayor Joe Smith said retired dentist Ernie Shaw had agreed to continue to serve on the Building Commission and that four more members must be recruited in order to re-activate the group. A stumbling block for recruiting has been the requirement that Building Commission members not be a member of any other public board.

Marlinton resident Mark Strauss told Council that he desired to serve on the Building Commission, but that he would have to resign his position on the Planning Commission. Council accepted Stauss’ resignation from the Planning Commission and Smith appointed him to the Building Commission. Council is currently seeking three more town residents to serve on the Building Commission.

Smith said he had consulted with attorney Steve Hunter on the legal duties and powers of the Building Commission. The attorney informed Smith that the Commission was formed exclusively to obtain property for a community center, and that any leftover money could be used only for that purpose. However, a re-activated Building Commission will be able to sell or dispose of the lot it acquired, adjacent to the Pocahontas County Opera House. Council will be able to dissolve the Commission, on a Commission request, and leftover money deposited in the Town account.

In other business, Council :
– Approved hiring Meira Kelly as a part-time building maintenance employee;
– Rejected proposed changes to the town animal ordinance;
– Approved the purchase of $25 local grocery store gift cards as a holiday incentive for full-time employees, and;
– Scheduled a special meeting on December 15 at 7 p.m. to act on the second readings of the bond ordinance and water rate ordinance.

The next regular Marlinton Council meeting is scheduled for January 5 at 7 p.m.

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