The Mingo County Commission met in a long session followed by a public hearing concerning water rates and tariffs. During the meeting, the group cleared one of the last hurdles for a water project, obtained insurance information and heard various reports.
J.B. Heflin, executive director of the Mingo County PSD, and Lisa Wells, of the West Virginia Region II Planning and Development Office, both talked to the commission about the Beech Creek and Ben Creek water projects.
Wells was on hand to obtain commission approval for a grant drawdown request and for some policy revisions that had recently taken place. She also gave the governing body an update on the water projects.
“I feel confident that we can finally get the project started in the next few months,” Wells said. “It has been a long time coming and we happy to see this project finally moving.”
The water projects were also the purpose of the public hearing which followed the commission meeting. The agenda listed it’s purpose as “a resolution approving the construction of the Beech Creek project and the Ben Creek Phase II project and establishing new rates, fees and charges for service to the water customers of the Mingo County Public Service District.”
Heflin explained that the new rate structure and fees are required because of the cost of constructing water projects and the repayment of government loan programs which are the main sources of the projects’ funding. He said the rates will remain the same as they are now (minimum billing of $29 per month) for one year then at that time the rate will increase by $6 taking the minimum bill to $35 per month.
“Our water rates are among the lowest in the state and will still remain comparable and even lower than in some parts of the state even after the rate increase goes into effect,” Heflin said. “The Beech Creek water project will provide water to between 180 to 200 customers and the Ben Creek extension will add about 75 customers to the system.”
The commission voted in favor of the rate adjustment which will go into effect immediately.
“This should be the last hurdle on our part to get the water projects going,” Heflin said.
Also, during the meeting, Leasha Johnson, executive director of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, updated the commission on activities in her office.
“Our last meeting was a very somber occasion,” Johnson said. “It was our first meeting without James Simpkins. He was a visionary and his wisdom will be missed. I am glad that his last time with us was during a joint meeting with the commission.”
Simpkins was recently killed in a work-related incident when a coal silo his company was deconstructing collapsed. He had been a member of the MCRA board of directors since the organization’s inception nearly three decade ago.
Johnson said the MCRA is working on plans to develop a 4-H camp in Mingo County and hopes to use it to honor Simpkins.
“A 4-H camp was one of James’ passions,” Johnson said. “When it is completed, with the commission’s permission, we would like to name it in his honor.”
Johnson then told the commission her office is becoming heavily involved in the proposed American Electric Power broadband project which will enhance services for Mingo and Logan counties. She said the MCRA is willing to act as the liaison between the power company, commission, the provider and regulatory agencies.
“This project is the best and most cost-effective way to get broadband service in underserved parts of the county,” Johnson said.
She also said her office is working with a company that wants to create a solar energy farm on a 128 tract of land which would be an estimated $80 million investment in Mingo County. She said the project would be “job intensive” during the construction phase.
In addition, Johnson said there is a manufacturing company wanting to locate in the Harless Industrial Park, but no announcements could be made at this time. She also updated the commission of activities at the airport and the aquaponics farm.
The commission also received proposals from three companies – City Insurance, Nationwide and the West Virginia Community Risk Pool – for general liability and workers’ compensation insurance for the next fiscal year. The commission will review the bids with the county’s finance director and make a decision during its next meeting on June 15.