The Whitesburg City Council will spend the next month deliberating on a rate increase for city utilities and return with a decision at its February meeting. The decision to take a month to accumulate more data for a decision came after the council heard a report from Andy Lange, Assistant Director of the Kentucky Rural Water Association (KRW), who delivered a report compiled by KRW that recommended raising the average household rate to $50 per month.
Lange told the council the city was losing money on water, sewer, and sanitation rates and Mayor James Wiley Craft agreed that the city needs a rate increase. Craft said the water rate hasn’t increased for 12 years but added he wasn’t sure he wanted to increase the rates so much.
Another issue raised by council members was the reliability of the data on which the report was based. Most of the data came from an outdated accounting system the city replaced last year. At the beginning of the meeting, when the council addressed the financial reports, Mayor Craft reported that the city is now running the new accounting system and he said the new system will be more accurate and allow for more information in reports, including budget information in every monthly report.
Lange told the council he is only certain about the information that was reported since the new accounting system, which also does billing for the utilities, was installed. He said it is enough to show him that the city is losing money and needs a rate increase, but he later added that it would not be a bad idea to add another month of data before a decision concerning the amount of a rate increase is made.
Lange said that in relation to surrounding communities, Whitesburg is about even with some and below others in the rates they charge for water and sewer services. Lange and the council all agreed that none of the costs in producing treated water, treating sewage, or addressing the city’s sanitation needs are going down.
New council member John Pellegrini, a retired physician, told the council that he owns property in Norton, Va., and that water rates are about one third higher there. Pellegrini said he does not like to see any rate increases but he also understands the need for the city to conduct its business on a sound financial basis. He added that it may be a good idea to place the initial fee on a lesser amount of water usage, such as billing the first 1,000 gallons rather than the first 2,000 gallons. He said this would have the combined effect of encouraging people to conserve water and would not punish people who tend to use less water anyway.
Councilman Derek Barto said he wants to see sound data before making a decision and Councilman Mike Jackson agreed. Both said an additional month of data, along with the the data they already have from the new accounting system, should be enough for the council to come to a reasonable decision. The council voted unanimously to table the discussion and revisit it at the February meeting when it will make a decision on the rate.
In other business, Derek Barto conducted the second reading of Ordinance 2018-05, a Cross Connection Contamination Prevention Ordinance that is now required by the state of Kentucky for municipal water districts. The ordinance will take measures to prevent the city’s water supply from being contaminated by keeping water that may be impure away from the city’s water source and requiring that check valves be used on connecting lines to be certain that the water system is satisfactorily protected. The council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.
The council voted to appoint Councilman Mike Jackson to the City Police Commission to fill the seat vacated by the death of late Councilman Jimmy Bates. The council members also voted to appoint Donna Perkins, who works at city hall, to be Mayor Craft’s proxy if he cannot attend a KRADD meeting.
Michael Thomas and Jason Craft of the Mountain Muscle Car Club attended the meeting and asked the council to give the club permission to stage a cruise-in on the second Saturday of the month from 5 until 8 p.m. The two had approached the council last year to ask about a cruise-in and were asked to return in January. The event will be on Main Street and the street will be closed off from the courthouse to Heritage Kitchen. The council voted five to one to approve the event. Councilman Pellegrini voted no because he said he opposes closing the street, because it inconveniences city residents.