OFFICIALS SAY MT. ZION PSD BACK ON TRACK - Investigation Could Not Assure No Wrongdoing

(11/01/2010)

The WV Public Service Commission held a hearing in Grantsville Friday regarding their investigation of the Mt. Zion Public Service District, an investigation called for by the Calhoun Commission and endorsed by the Mt. Zion PSD.

The investigation, described by PSC attorney Leslie Anderson as "cursory," covered one year of record keeping from July 2008 to July 2009, and was directed toward reestablishing the operations of the troubled PSD.

Calhoun prosecutor Rocky Holmes asked PSD auditor Troy Eggleton if the investigation cleared questions regarding any wrongdoing. Eggleton replied, "I cannot assume there was no wrongdoing."

PSC officials said the investigation was not forensic, and not directed toward discovering criminal problems.

During testimony before law master Ronnie McCann, Eggleton said the PSD records were in "disarray, with a large amount of records missing."

"We chose a test period (2008-2009) to compare revenue and data...to create a general ledger," to reflect the financial status of the PSD, he said, finding a discrepancy of $955, which he called "an immaterial amount."

Eggleton said there was a lack of checks and balances, with former secretary-treasurer Wilma Mace obtaining pre-signed checks, "not authorized to a known vendor," indicating the record keeping did not separate water and sewage.

A boxful of bills had never been mailed to customers. One bill was in the amount of the person's phone number, while there was a keystroke error of a customer getting a $35,000 bill.

PSD CORRECTING PROBLEMS

Mt. Zion PSD attorney Tom Whittier called Roscoe Gainer, a one-year board member to testify. Gainer, when going on the board, said "I asked for records. There was none," after which he said secretary-treasurer Mace resigned after 20 or more years in the position.

PSD board members later recovered some boxes of records from Mace's house, reportedly on two separate occasions, including the PSD's computer.

PSD board members said they will be opening a business office at Mt. Zion where customers can pay their bills or seek assistance.

Gainer said the PSD'S bills are currently being managed, indicating old bills have been paid down from about $85,000 to $35,000, with a payment plan in place to pay the Town of Grantsville for purchased water.

The sewage plant, which has received DEP fines, is now meeting requirements, with numerous repairs and updates being made to the system.

Gainer testified that a policy regarding check-writing is now in place, and records and minutes of meetings are publicly available.

He said the current $5.2 million dollar water extension is 19% complete.

Auditor Eggleton testified that the Mt. Zion PSD is operating in a reasonable manner, and he recommended it not be put in receivership.

He said while he was working with limited records, "My objective was to create financial facts." He said the PSD has "Done a wonderful job" of re-grouping.

Calhoun commissioners Helmick, Westfall and Weaver attended the hearing, as did Mt. Zion PSD board members Mace, Gainer and Postalwait.

COMPOUNDING PROBLEMS

The Calhoun Commission requested the investigation following the discovery of multiple problems with the Mt. Zion PSD's record-keeping, and the failure of the PSD board's secretary-treasurer Wilma Mace to provide the commission with minutes or financial records as required by WV Code.

Mace essentially failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Request for records issued by the commission.

The Mt. Zion PSD has applied for a long-delayed rate increase for it's 350 water and 185 sewer customers.

The WV-PSC is recommending an increase of water rates by 5.3%, making a minimum water bill $17.22. Sewer rate increases are recommended at 10.9%, with a minimum bill of $21.18.

Mt. Zion PSD attorney Whittier had requested that the Calhoun Commission drop the investigation, and appeared before the commission to be informed they had no intention of dropping.

Problems surfaced with the PSD'S $5.2 million water extension now under construction in the county, linked to the PSD's inability to obtain legal right-of-ways.

Following a series of public meetings regarding the problems, the Calhoun Commission assisted the PSD in obtaining those right-of-ways, but problems with the PSD's operations continued to surface, including a conflict over the letting of construction contracts, now the object of civil suits.

The Calhoun Commission has continued to explore ways to have a thorough investigation of the PSD records.


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