Garbage Rates Dominate WCSWA Meeting
NEW MARTINSVILLE – The Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority recently discussed the proposed rate changes for garbage pick-up.
Solid Waste Services, which provides garbage pick-up services, is seeking the rate increase. The state’s Public Service Commission has to approve any rate increase.
The Authority debated whether to comment about the proposed rate hike as a body or as individuals. After a lengthy discussion at the Jan. 7 meeting, the Authority decided to indefinitely table decide another day as to whether to submit a comments as a public body. However, Authority members as individuals are free to submit comments.
The PSC comment period ended Monday, but Authority members suggested that it might not be too late for citizens to submit comments.
Comments posted online at the PSC site can be found on page X.
SWS’s current rate for residential service is about $16 per month, plus a Commission-established fuel surcharge. Its proposed residential rate is $27.50 per month – a potential 71 percent increase. Under its current tariff, commercial collection rates are negotiable and SWS is proposing a commercial rate increase as the Commission may determine.
The same proposed rate changes affect Solid Waste Services’ customers in Wetzel and Tyler counties.
Solid Waste Services seeks additional revenue to give employees raises as well for equipment and facility upgrades.
“A rate proposal can be modified by the PSC to either increase or decrease the rate as they see fit,” said David Pritt, SWS West Virginia general manager.
Bill Hughes, SWA chairman, said the Authority has an interest in the case because any rate changes would affect Wetzel County’s largest city, New Martinsville.
“The Solid Waste Authority should comment because we are charged with the overall issues of solid waste disposal in the county,” he said. “The other reason the Authority should be involved is to raise awareness of solid waste collection and disposal issues. More people need to be aware of what is going on and to comment if they choose to. People tend not to read the fine print.”
Hughes said the proposed rate increase appears to be too high.
“We have to make sure the rate is high enough so as to provide dependable, reliable and sustainable service,” he said. “I would argue that the rates need to be changed some, but the comparison garbage rates for area providers averages out to be about $18 a month. A rate increase is needed $16 per month is too low. That means our ballpark raise should be much less than the 71 percent proposed probably around $18 to $20. This appears to be unreasonably high increase, so that’s why I think the Authority should provide comment to the PSC.”
Authority member Mark Cochran countered Hughes by asking why the Authority is suddenly interested in Solid Waste Services’ proposal but had little to no discussion about rate increases from other garbage service providers within the county. He called this change of heart “duplicitous” and charged that it unfairly singles out one company.
“There is a mentality that permeates the authority that dictates that the authority oppose Pat Mascaro and his companies at every juncture and every opportunity, regardless of the merits of what the authority’s position might be,” he said. “This has been going on for years. It is my view that it is time to move on. We should working with these people, not against them.”
Authority member Steve Conlon said, “The concept that we are playing favorites is absurd.”
Cochran said he puts his faith in the PSC’s ability to determine a fair rate for garbage service.
“They have the expertise, they have financial analysts and the experience to make the right decisions on these rate cases,” he said.
Hughes said PSC has a large amount of information to digest when making these rate change decisions.
“If local residents don’t voice concerns, those concerns can not be taken into consideration by the PSC,” he said.
Hughes favors local decision making on these issues and wants the SWA more input. The Authority seeks to engage citizens in the process.
“It allows citizens a place at the table that is not just a spreadsheet of numbers,” he said.
Approving Minutes Leads to Debate
By MILES LAYTON
NEW MARTINSVILLE – The Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority spent the first hour of its most recent meeting debating the merits of an issue that is usually routine for most public bodies – approving an account of what happened at the group’s last meeting.
The meeting’s “minutes” serve as the official record of any public meeting.
According to the Authority’s bylaws, the organization’s secretary is to write a draft copy of the “minutes” from the previous meeting. Roberts Rules of Order serves as a useful guide to managing meetings from the U.S. Senate to the Magnolia High School Student Council.
One question Authority members debated was the degree to how much detail should be provided within the minutes.
The generally accepted practice is that any major changes involving the minutes’ content be discussed when the group meets during its regular meeting. In most cases, members of these public bodies review the minutes in advance so as to be prepared to make any material changes, if necessary, to the content of those notes at the meeting. In most cases, minor changes – grammar, spelling, etc. – can be made before the meeting and without the board’s approval.
Various sets of minutes from the Dec. 3 meeting were prepared by different affected parties from the Authority.
Among those, the Authority sent to its members a five-page version of the notes drafted by Authority member Mark Cochran, not by Terri Tyler, who serves as the Authority’s secretary. A few Authority members had concern about Tyler’s minutes from previous meetings.
The core of this debate was about whether Authority Chairman Bill Hughes had the power change Cochran’s minutes before they were presented to the Authority at the Jan. 8 meeting. Hughes said that minutes are always a condensed version of what occurred at meetings and that court cases support this.
Cochran disputed whether Hughes was empowered to make any major revisions.
Hughes said when he edited Cochran’s account, he provided Authority members guidance and his interpretation of what was needed within that set of minutes. Instead of listing specifics related to materials presented at that meeting, Hughes said he redacted and condensed that information because the public could seek these documents by their own accord. For example, Hughes said, it is unnecessary when citing state code to append to the minutes the entire code section. Or when citing an article from the Wetzel Chronicle, printing the story so as it can be recorded in the minutes, he said.
Hughes sought a condensed version of the Authority’s minutes as written by Cochran, so he wrote a different three-page version of the minutes which he sent to Authority members.
“Nothing of substance or essential facts were added or deleted or altered from the minutes,” Hughes said.
Add to that discussion, Authority members had a heated discussion about the proper protocol for discussing changes to the minutes outside a public meeting.
Prior to the Jan. 8 meeting, Hughes asked Authority members what changes they wanted to be made to these notes.
Cochran suggested any attempt by Hughes to solicit Authority members to make changes was an ethics violation because that would be the equivalent of having a meeting without proper notice to the public to discuss this matter.
“What we have here, what you (Hughes) have solicited us to do is illegal,” Cochran said.
Cochran said making changes to the minutes and then soliciting Authority members’ permission while not at an public meeting violates the law. He sought advice from the Commission regarding Hughes’ actions. Cochran cited advisory opinions from the West Virginia Ethics Commission and called Hughes’ actions an ethics violation.
Hughes said said there is plenty of case law that supports his assertions too, so the matter is unclear.
Cochran said the Authority should seek advice from the Commission before approving the minutes. After a lengthy debate, the Authority approved a version of the minutes written by Tyler, who also serves as the Authority’s executive director, that did not include any of Hughes’ material changes.