Kingwood Sewer Board seeks to repass amendment to close loophole

KINGWOOD — The State Public Service Commission (PSC) says Kingwood didn’t alert it of changes to a rate ordinance within the required time limit.

While it appears the city followed all other requirements to pass the amended sewer rate ordinance, it does provide residents a possible means to appeal it, the PSC wrote in a letter to the city’s sewer board.

On Monday, Kingwood Sewer Board President Randy Plum said he plans to appear before city council next week and ask that it consider passing the ordinance again, following all the PSC’s guidelines, so that there are no grounds for customers to challenge it.

Plum said he thought it would be “foolish” to issue any penalties under the ordinance until the possible loophole is addressed.

The PSC letter was dated June 7 and sent to former sewer board attorney Sheila Williams. The board released Williams as its attorney last month and is seeking a new attorney. At Monday’s meeting, the board agreed to extend the search outside Preston County.

The changes related to storm water, implementing fines for residents who don’t stop their storm drains from draining into city sewer lines.

Council tabled the question at its last meeting. Recorder Bill Robertson suggested getting a legal opinion.

According to the letter, the ordinance was adopted March 27 and filed with the PSC for review May 29. It became effective 45 days after adoption, which was May 11.

PSC rules call for municipalities to submit information within five days of adopting a rate ordinance, according to the letter from PSC Supervising Attorney Leslie J. Anderson.

Anderson made note that, “the City’s process to adopt the proposed rates may be formally challenged by someone at the Commission or another forum such as a circuit court on the grounds that the process was flawed.”

“While I am recommending that the Tariff Officer accept the sewer rate ordinance for filing, I caution the City to be timelier in filing the ordinance for review with the Commission,” Anderson wrote.

Kingwood provided proof that notice of the amendments were published before adoption and that the ordinance was read twice, Anderson wrote. The city also provided the PSC with information about the number of customers served and a financial justification statement.

The PSC said it has not received any informal complaints, and, “the Legal Division concludes that the City’s customers were adequately informed of the rate ordinance and of their ability to challenge the rate ordinance with the commission.”

About 16 letters were sent out by the board to residents and businesses earlier this year, telling them smoke testing indicated they had storm water entering the sewers.

Six of those residents have taken action to remove their drains from the sewers, and the board said that smoke testing will be done within the week to verify those actions. The others have not responded to the letters sent them, and the 90 days give for action are nearly up.

The board thanked those who responded.

A second phase of smoke testing, to find other homes and businesses in noncompliance, is being planned.

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