Mayor Richard Price Says Pine Grove Improvements Continue
Nearly one year ago Pine Grove was sinking in sewage problems; raw sewage flowed down the streets and filled people’s basements. Residents said they were becoming sick from the smell of sewer gas and were unable to flush their commodes.
At city council meetings, residents expressed their concerns over the problem along with several other issues. It was explained the town has had problems with its sewage system for several years and was in the process of working toward a second phase of replacing the old system, which would hopefully solve the issues. However, reportedly due to the town’s delinquency on loan payments, it was reportedly difficult to borrow necessary funds and secure grants for another sewer project phase.
During this time, the mayor resigned her position, and Richard Price – then a councilman – was approved as the new mayor of Pine Grove. Price said he had questioned the quality of work the town was receiving from its employees. He said along with other council members, he was in opposition to raising rates for city customers to help cover costs of a new sewer system.
Price described changes he has instituted that brought the town out of the gutter and back to normal. Prior to the new administration several businesses were affected along with the high school and local Post Office. Price made it a priority to have the town’s maintenance crew clean out the sewage pits, get the sewage flowing and spend time working on the treatment plant. Residents whose yards and basements were filled with sewage started getting relief according to Price.
“I honestly believe we found the problem and took the steps to correct it. We were in a situation where we couldn’t afford to buy new equipment, build a new system, or hire the work out. So we took it on ourselves and went to work,” Mayor Price said. “We were dealing with potential increases; we were behind on bills and our community was overrun with drug problems.”
In less than a year, things are looking up. Price said you will no longer find raw sewage on the ground. He said he believes the old system is now working so well that a new system is not needed. Pine Grove has four full-time maintenance workers, three who work day shift and one who works night turn.
“We have great employees, which I believe to be the main difference in our sewage flow and our drinking water. We have the best drinking water around; it is crystal clear and has a great taste. We test it regularly and have never experienced any problems with chemicals. We are always in compliance with EPA codes and regulations,” added Price. He said it all boils down to the dedication of employees and their love of their job. To get the town sewage back in to shape, Price said the crew actually stuck their heads down in the pits and used their arms and hands to clean them out. He backed that up with pictures of the town workers covered in raw sewage.
Price said the town has made a 100 percent turn around since he took over. He stated the town was in a financial mess and worked its way out of it by selling water to the oil and gas companies. According to Price he made several trips to Charleston and beat on the doors of his representatives to get the help Pine Grove needed.
“We were in dire straits and needed to act quickly. The health of our residents was at stake, so I didn’t hesitate and with the help of council we received help from several different areas. What I do know is there is help out there, and you won’t get it if you don’t ask. I consider myself a full-time mayor and I devote my time to correcting problems and making Pine Grove a better place to live, “Price said.
Price said the town is now fully staffed with Teddy Blake – who is the only salary employee, Billy Burckure, Zack Bassett, Tim Flint – water plant operator, Robert Call, and Jeff Watson – sewer plant operator. Price said with this crew, there have been major improvements – including going from processing 8,000 gallons of water to cleaning and processing 90,000 to 100,000 thousand gallons a day, which go back into the creek.
Burckure reads 240 meters in two days and does it all by foot. He travels all the way to Hastings and Piney without using a town vehicle. However, since this time last year the town has not only made great improvements in the quality of their drinking water by adding more chemicals – for taste, quality and safety, they have also installed a six-inch meter and is completely up to code according to Price. The water comes from North Fork Creek and the town has installed a new lift pump. Their new motto is “Distribution is the solution.” The sewage plant has also received new upgrades, which help keep the sewage flowing.
Price said everything the town has accomplished is paid for without borrowing any money. He said the town is current on all old bills and have paid past delinquent bills. “We have done it all by selling water.” He added the town has also acquired two new trucks for the workers, one is a 4×4 diesel and the other a 4×4 gas truck. According to Price the sale of water and cost to companies using the town sewage plant has brought in $220,000 and continues to bring in much more.
He said all the town’s wages and benefits are paid through the sale of water. He added employees have identification badges, and the town has new time clocks to keep track of overtime and regular time. For the first time in a long time, the town now has a police force and presence in the community. Chief of Police is Clay Lunceford, and Ray Stoneking is the patrolman. The town also has a new addition to the force with K-9 Cain. Stoneking will be Cain’s handler. Cain is currently in training and should be in service Aug.15. Cain is a Belgeim Malamar all-purpose K-9 and will be used for tracking, building sweeps, drugs and article searches. The town is also in the process of hiring a part-time officer.
The Pine Grove Police Department has two vehicles. Chief Lunceford will drive the 2010 Chevy Tahoe, a fully-equipped vehicle purchased in Ohio, while Stoneking and Cain will operate out of the 2016 Dodge Charger that has already been converted into a K-9 car. It was purchased from a dealer in Chicago, and Mayor Price and Police Judge/Councilman Larry Huggins made the trip to pick it up. It is also fully equipped. The town has also purchased car cameras for city vehicles, body cameras for the police, and prisoner cameras for police protection.
Police Judge Huggins went to Charleston for training and completed his certification. He holds town court every Friday at 1 p.m. The town added a $5 per month fee to residents’ bills for police protection. Huggins described police court as busy but slacking off as people become aware the town now has a police force and court. He said he has handled a variety of cases, ranging from traffic violations to theft and drug charges. He added the town council recently passed and implemented a drug ordinance’ he said Hundred is putting in the same ordinance with Pine Grove’s permission.
Another improvement the community has seen is the purchase of a used garbage truck, which has been paid for through donations and water sales. Price said the service has not cost residents any money and no new fees. He said the city workers, led by maintenance director Teddy Blake, pick up garbage once a week for residents and twice for businesses. Price said the town workers keep quite busy taking care of the town needs plus the garbage. “They do all off it including reading the meters and garbage collection with just four employees, one which is on night shift, that’s impressive,” stated Price.
Other improvements in the last year include updates to the Bryd Center. Floors have been redone upstairs, the building interior has been cleaned and painted, and new security locks have been installed on the entrance doors and doors to the city clerk, and police clerk offices. New Graphics on the front windows were donated by Lemley Graphics.
“We are continuing to make improvements and believe we have the town back to normal. We are back in the black and out of the red. We also now accept payments electronically by credit or debit, ” said Price.
Mayor Price added he is satisfied in the direction the town is going and confident more progress will be made in the future. He said it is once again a great place to live and raise kids. “We have been successful in ridding the town of a lot of drug activity, and we will continue to fight to keep drug dealers from coming to Pine Grove.”