PENNINGTON GAP - Following a water department budget workshop on Monday, the Pennington Gap Town Council approved a motion to raise wholesale water rates to a total cost of $2.50 per thousand gallons to all wholesale customers. The rate was based on a recommendation from town staff.
Town Manager Tina Rowe said the increase will be "fairly significant" to some of the wholesale customers, of which there are four - including the Lee County Public Service Authority, which has two different water supply contracts with the town. The price increase will become effective at different times, based on clauses in the five different contracts, she said.
Rowe said the cost of water in each contract varies, with customers paying a flat rate based on their usage of water plant capacity then a rate for water per thousand gallons. Under the new rate structure, each customer will pay different rates for the flat rate and for actual water, but the total for all will now be $2.50 when both charges are combined.
In another water-related issue, the Town Council approved a resolution stating that it will participate in a Regional Water Supply Plan prepared by the Lenowisco Planning District. During discussion of the resolution, Mayor Jimmy Smallwood expressed concern that "we're putting our water plant on the line."
The motion passed, and after a second discussion, Councilwoman Connie Nunley was appointed to attend Lenowisco meetings to represent the town's interest in regard to the water plan.
Later in the meeting, Smallwood brought up his concerns again that the town's water plant could be jeopardized due to the plan. The question was then raised as to whether the town could appoint anyone to either the Lenowisco board or the water plan committee. Ultimately, council members voted unanimously to rescind the motion on participating in the plan and to see if it can appoint someone to represent the town's interest.
"I want to make sure our own fox is watching the henhouse," said Councilman Larry Fish.
A memo from Lenowisco to the council states that the planning district is currently preparing phase one of the supply plan to help each locality comply with the state law that requires each to have a plan. As Lenowisco is seeking funding to complete phase two, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is requiring each locality to pass a resolution stating that it will participate in the plan. The DEQ will not accept a resolution each locality passed last year, the memo states.
In other matters, engineer Jeff Cochran of Lane Engineering advised council members that bids were recently due for a planned construction of concession stands and comfort stations at Leeman Field, but only two bids were received. Cochran added that one came to the wrong place, and the other did not have a required bond bid, so both had to be rejected.
Councilman Keith Harless advised council members that the project is too small to interest larger contractors, and because of associated costs of bond bids and the purchase or blueprints, smaller companies are not interested.
It was suggested that the town attempt to do the work with its own crews, but Cochran recommended that the council rebid the project. A motion to do so passed unanimously.
Acting Police Chief Barry Cottrell reported that a new officer has recently been hired, and even with the recent resignation of former Chief Mike Nunley, the town still has 24-hour police protection. Cottrell added that two new cruisers are on the road and two more will soon be, and he is seeking several grants to improve the department and its effectiveness. The vacant police chief position has been advertised, and he promised to work quickly with Rowe to review applications after the deadline for submission passes.
Before convening in closed session to discuss employee issues, Smallwood asked all council members if they "know of anything council can to to protect the citizens of Pennington Gap" in regard to "the investigation the town is involved in." All members replied in the negative, and the meeting was closed.