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Westmoreland Sheriff’s report

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Next sewer project is single May 10 public comment topic

Westmoreland County Citizens Association (WCCA) President Kennon Morris was the only speaker during the May 10 Board of Supervisors meeting’s public comment segment.
The local government’s new and old public sewer projects were the subject addressed by Morris during the last minutes before the supervisors recessed for a luncheon meeting at the nearby Bay Aging establishment.
Morris told the supervisors he has attempted to make sense of county’s most recent audit of sewer accounts. “The question,” he noted, “is are these systems paying for them-selves?”
The WCCA president recalled a 2009 Board of Supervisors action to raise the systems’ monthly service fees, a consideration not reflected in the public auditors’ review of an accounting period that ended last June 30.

According to Morris’s findings, every system’s operating costs exceed incoming revenue, resulting in what he characterized as “an operating loss.”
A closer look at the audit report revealed a somewhat different picture. The respective systems’ depreciation had been interjected into the reporting’s bottom line, something Morris suggested is widely established as an accepted practice in government accounting.
Despite the systems’ favorable bottom lines, citizens in many parts of Westmoreland County remain unconvinced that the sewage collection systems are paying for them-selves. Morris’s comments reflected those concerns.
Morris next addressed the recently advertised notice of the availability of a Glebe Har-bor/Tidwells/Drum Bay sewer system’s environmental impact analysis that can be re-viewed and critiqued at the system’s federal finance office in Richmond prior to May 21.
According to the proposal, collection lines would cross Glebe Creek to connect Glebe Harbor to the former Tidwells Farm. Another crossing would occur on Lower Machodoc in order to service the Drum Bay subdivision that is a final destination on the meandering route to Coles Point Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Morris acknowledged having telephoned the published phone number in Richmond to learn more about the county government’s plans for Glebe Harbor, Tidwells and Drum Bay. He had spoken with that USDA Rural Development office’s Tara Delaney (804-287-1599) and had expressed concern that members of the Westmoreland County government had commissioned the project’s preliminary engineering and made application for $8.5 million in federal financing without soliciting formal input from the project’s prospective customers.
“The contact person at Rural Development said she was surprised to learn there had been no advertised public hearings on the project,” Morris told the members of the county government.
“Once again, I’m afraid you have the cart before the horse. I spoke with our county ad-ministrator several months ago and he said he thought there had been a public hearing on the countywide sewer master plan in 1994. That was so long ago that half the people who lived in Tidwells are no longer there!”
Morris voiced the widespread public sentiment that people who use the county’s public sewer systems are supposed to pay the operating costs, not the rest of the taxpayers in Westmoreland. He suggested that the projects have yet to become self-supporting and noted concern that monthly service fees will continue to go up.
Morris then wondered how much public money has been already expended to pursue what is billed as the county government’s next sewer project.
“I suppose it’s just the kind of way we do things here in Westmoreland County,” he commented. “We make application to fund an $8.5 million sewer project, publish notice of an environmental impact assessment, but is it really smart to spend a lot of taxpayer money if the people don’t want the sewer system?
“Don’t you think it would be a good idea to let the people know what you’re doing and establish if it is feasible before you spend taxpayer money to move this large a project forward?”
The supervisors recessed their meeting and went to lunch. No answers were offered to the set of questions brought forward by the citizens’ organization spokesperson on May 10.

By Betsy Ficklin
The Journal

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