If you read last week’s Mayor’s Corner, there’s plenty wrong in the world – no arguments here. Yet, unhappy people turn a blind eye to what’s actually right in this world and instead focus on what’s wrong. They are usually the ones complaining and responding to anything positive with “yeah, but.”
This week, I want to speak to each of you who are concerned about future water rates. We heard your voices at the June council meeting. You came forward with real concerns, and I commend you for that. It was good to stop and listen. Your comments moved me back to the basics – water, food and shelter. My intention is to make this topic a two-to-three week series aimed ultimately at priority and choices. Specifically, we all depend on water.
Obtaining each item requires a measure of expense and/or effort on our part – some more than others. At a young age on the farm, I understood the value and necessity of water. Many times, I have cupped my hands to drink from a mountain stream. But, the availability of water does not eliminate the expense of water.
Individual property owners can spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars, drilling a well. Often, with no guarantee of striking a lasting or suitable volume of good water. If water is found, other valid questions remain:
Will the water be good enough for washing clothes?
Will the water run out before the washer shuts off?
Can the car or driveway be washed and will we still be able to shower before bedtime?
Routine maintenance and repairs to switches, pumps, pressure tanks and the like are a whole other story.
When on a private well, the power bill must be paid.
If something breaks, it has to be repaired.
In those respects, a municipal system is no different.
The cost of operations must be spread among the users.
I have often heard, “Marlinton has among the highest water rates in the State.”
Marlinton is high, but not the highest.
Always compare apples with apples.
Larger systems in most metropolitan areas have lower water rates. But, not low enough to entice me to move there. A larger numbers of users on any system will experience a better unit price. But consider the whole picture. What about the cost of housing or taxes in those areas?
When comparing us with other towns in the state, consider other factors.
Is the raw source well water or surface water?
What is the raw water quality?
What size or class plant does the community require?
These factors set the requirements for sampling and testing.
What is the water loss ratio?
All of these factors, and more, determine the ultimate cost of operations and cost of replacement when the time comes.
The present (new) water plant has worked 24/7 for 36 years. All things considered, this plant may not have done such a bad job after all. One thing is for sure. The time has come for major repairs. Please remember, it is your Federal and State regulatory agencies that make the rules regarding those repairs. It is not the local government. Also, it is your state public service commission that authorizes any rate increases based upon certain facts. The PSC does not give municipalities a blank check.
Like it or not, Engineers, Lawyers and Accountants charge huge amounts to ensure users receive what users are paying for. The town cannot pull an unrealistic rate out of the air, even if we wanted to. Quite simply, local governments are tasked with implementing and applying rates and protocols as set forth by various agencies.
FYI: Water loss ratio is the factor that hurts Marlinton – particularly in the downtown common area. In more than one recent case, the town has identified and repaired leaks that were finding their way back into the sewer system and not coming to the surface. The good news is: we have reduced the loss rate from a high of nearly 80 percent to 51 percent at last billing cycle. This is still unacceptable, but we are going in the right direction. Our current goal is to achieve a 20 to 25 percent loss rate.
That would be great.
In closing, if you have looked at Public Service Commission utility ranking, you will see the Town of Marlinton ranks #341 to #345 of 368, depending on the billing standard used. I do not know how the PSC determines their utility cost ranking, but I do know (from personal experience) it draws a distorted conclusion.
Next week: The untold story with regard to Marlinton water rates and PSC ranking.