45-Percent Water Rate Hike Proposed in Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM – Turning on the tap is about to become more expensive for approximately 1,160 village of Bethlehem water customers.

On Jan. 6, Village Council is set to vote on a 45 percent water rate increase that would take effect March 1. Bethlehem purchases its water from the city of Wheeling, which raised its rates after issuing about $39.3 million in bonds earlier this year to pay for a brand new water treatment plant. The new facility is under construction and will replace the existing 90-year-old plant in Warwood, likely sometime in 2015.

Water customers within Wheeling city limits already have absorbed a 53.1-percent rate increase to pay for the new treatment plant. Resale customers, however, saw a larger percentage increase of almost 72 percent on June 1 from a previous $1.97 per 1,000 gallons to $3.38 per 1,000 gallons.

Bethlehem Mayor Garrett “Rhett” Daniel said the village has been able to absorb several previous resale rate increases over the years without increasing rates for residents. However, 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,” Daniel said.

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.

Several resale customers filed formal protests after Wheeling City Council passed a rate increase ordinance in November 2011, but Bethlehem was not among them.

Daniel could not be reached Wednesday for further comment.

A public hearing concerning the proposed rate increase will take place at 8 p.m. Jan. 6, the same evening Village Council is expected to vote on the new rates. A copy of the proposed ordinance is available for inspection at the village office at 1 Community Park Road between 8:30 a.m. and noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday.