By Debbie Rolen
MATEWAN - The Matewan Town Council had a busy agenda for Tuesday evening’s meeting, which began late due to an extended meeting of the Utility Board.
In an effort to keep people with new business from waiting any longer, the meeting began with a discussion about the former Matewan High School facility and a group of young men who came to express their ideas and offer their assistance.
Tim Kane, Justin Bradford, Corey Cisco and Nick Mitchell want to see the facility cleaned up and used for the people in the community. The council approved letting the group get started on a cleanup of the building and is going to include them as members of a committee to explore options for its use.
“We have a lot of ideas. We want to see if anyone wants to help or make suggestions for uses for the facility instead of seeing it sit and ruin like we have seen do here,” Kane said.
Bradford said, “We all got together and talked about having a facility in Matewan for everyone to work out and play ball. We are hoping we can work something out to do it here at home.”
The group is going to tour the facility Wednesday evening and discuss the cleanup and other needs of the facility.The Mingo County Commission has approved helping acquire a security system for the facility.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Matewan approved a proclamation and ceremony, which includes Amy Martin Smith raising the flag at Town Hall at 11 a.m. April 7. The council also approved a proclamation for Fair Housing for the month of April.
Police Chief Patrick Mounts submitted his report, which included the resignation of Steven Smith. Smith resigned both his part-time Matewan position and his full-time deputy sheriff’s position to pursue an opportunity outside the law enforcement field. Mounts says they need to fill the part-time position he is vacating at Matewan.
Fire Chief Bryan Casto is out on sick leave. Recorder David Smith said the fire department is doing very well, having seven or eight volunteers who are currently attending a 10-week class that takes place on weekends (both days). Smith said they have had difficulty getting the classes in due to the weather.
Matewan representatives will participate in a meeting to discuss plans for the Hatfield-McCoy Reunion Festival on Thursday evening.
The Thacker Water Project was the next topic for discussion. The council approved the draw-down request by Mike Webb of the Region III Planning and Development Council. They also approved an extension to April 18, which was requested by the contractor. Mayor Sheila Kessler was also given approval to sign the engagement letter for the appraisals recently completed by Deaton’s Appraisal Service to be reviewed by another appraiser, which is a funding requirement.
Kessler had a letter from Donald Patterson, who is vice president of operations at Veolia Water’s corporate offices.
“The letter is about a CPI increase. They are going to initiate that increase whether we agree to it or not. He also sent me the clause in the contract that talks about the annual increase, which states, provided that any increase in the annual fee shall only become effective if, after an independent certified public accountant certifies (since the town doesn’t agree to the increase) in a timely manner that the town rates are insufficient to pay such annual fee. In the event the town’s rates are not sufficient, the town agrees it will exercise its best efforts to increase rates so that such rates are sufficient to accommodate an increase to the annual fee.”
Kessler told the council they need to get a certified public accountant to certify that the town does not have enough money coming in to allow it to increase from a fee of $557,923 to a fee of $567,712. The total monthly invoice, if the council approved the 1.754 percent increase, would be $47,309.30.
According to Kessler, any increase to customer rates would require a public hearing and approval by the Public Service Commission.
“We’ve had too many increases,” said Kessler, who continued, “We can’t afford to do another increase for the people who are on our water. We need to do our due diligence and prove that, No. 1, we can’t afford the increase, and No. 2, we can’t increase our rates to our customers.”
In addition to the fee, the town is currently paying Veolia Water $8,000 a month on an old balance.
The town council will be exploring other options for management of the water system, including the possibility of entering into an agreement with the Mingo County Public Service District for the same services provided by Veolia.
Resident Pat Brown spoke up to say, “This is ridiculous. They are sitting up there in their big office and we are down here trying to make ends meet from month to month. People with health problems and on a fixed income they want an increase.”
Council Member Francine Jones said, “They are trying to push us to the limit,” to which Brown replied, “We can push back,” and the mayor added, “Yes, we will.”