Citing the cost passed onto the village to help pay for the city of Wheeling's new $39 million water treatment plant, Bethlehem Council voted 7-0 Monday to approve a 45 percent water rate increase.
Following the unanimous vote by Councilmen Robert Henry Jr., Kent Pascoli, Mark Bauer, Stephen Harasuik, Mark Saseen, Thomas Auten Jr. and Stanley Wojcik, about 1,160 Bethlehem water customers can expect to see the increase take effect March 1.
Bethlehem purchases its water from Wheeling, which is building a new plant set to open in 2015 that will replace the existing facility in Warwood. Water customers within Wheeling city limits saw a 53.1-percent rate increase to pay for the new treatment plant.
"We have been able to keep the rate of the increase down because of efficiencies and upgrades," Mayor Garrett "Rhett" Daniel said.
During a public hearing as part of the Monday council meeting, Bethlehem resident Thomas Landon asked Village Solicitor T.C. McCarthy if he believed Wheeling was treating Bethlehem fairly.
"We are responsible for our equitable portion of this," McCarthy answered.
Daniel said the size of this particular rate hike, combined with higher infrastructure maintenance costs, means "the increased water treatment cost rates will have to be passed on to the customers of the water utility system in order for the village water system to remain financially sound and for the village to comply with West Virginia Public Service Commission requirements."
According to the July 31, 2012 West Virginia Public Service Commission order setting the new rates, Wheeling's five resale customers - Bethlehem, Valley Grove, Triadelphia, the Ohio County Public Service District and West Alexander, Pa. - had accounted for only 21.5 percent of Wheeling's revenue from water sales. However, those customers consumed about 36 percent of Wheeling's total volume during the 2010-11 fiscal year.
Also during the meeting, Daniel commended village street and water workers for enduring "brutal" weather conditions. He said so far this winter, the village has used 125 tons of salt and 75 tons of cinders.
Bethlehem Council usually meets at 8 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of each month at the village building at 1 Community Park Road. However, the next meeting will be at 8 p.m. Jan. 21 because Jan. 20 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.