A lengthy discussion ensued during the Mingo County Commission meeting on June 16 after the director of the county’s water district requested a rate hike from the governing body. However, the commissioners were reluctant to approve the measure.
J.B. Heflin, with the Mingo County Public Service District, came to the meeting with updates about the Beech Creek and Ben Creek water projects. He said everything was moving along well for the two projects and that the PSD will soon be ready to put the two projects out for bid. A USDA loan of about $2 million will have to be obtained prior to the bidding. That loan is the basis for the proposed rate adjustment.
Members of the commission questioned Heflin about the request and asked if the project could go out for bid without the rate hike.
“The loans have been in the plan from the beginning and the rate increase is the only way we can repay them,” Heflin said. “The USDA can stop the process because we don’t have the ability to repay the loans.”
He said the rate hike would be part of getting the loan and there is not enough funding for the project without the loans.
“It will be a system-wide increase,” Heflin continued. “The 268 customers in those areas could not pay back $2 million.”
The exceptions to the increase would be resale customers, according to Heflin.
“We will not increase the resale rate to avoid a 90 to 180-day delay (in the project) from any protests that might be filed with the Public Service Commission,” Heflin continued.
Resale customers include the towns of Delbarton and Kermit in Mingo County and Crum in Wayne County.
While the commissioners told Heflin they understood the predicament the PSD is facing, the members also said they did not believe they could impose a rate increase.
“I don’t see how we can raise everybody’s rates at this time,” Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith said.
“Everybody is struggling right now.”
Commission President Diann Hannah said that first part of the request which raises the rates less than $2 per month on average is not so bad. She said her biggest concern is that the following year the rates would again increase by $6 per month.
Approval of the rate hike has been postponed until a meeting can be set up between the commission, Mingo County PSD and representatives from the USDA.
Smith said he wanted to see if there was another alternative to a rate hike. In addition, if it is determined that an increase is necessary, the commission wants to reconsider the amount of the increase.
“If we do this, I want to know what the bottom amount is that the accountant will sign off on,” Smith said. “We cannot stop these projects, but it’s got to be the lowest amount possible.”
Heflin said he would arrange the meeting.