By David Hedges, Publisher

The Mt. Zion Public Service District still owes more than $60,000 to the contractors who maintain the water and sewer systems. And that's only the start of the problems.

As the PSD's financial woes mount, the part-time employee who bills water and sewer customers resigned, expressing her frustration.

"I'm done," Saundra Ballengee announced at Monday night's monthly PSD meeting.

Ballengee, the billing clerk since since December 2009, said the office was not operating efficiently.

She said her last straw came when she could not get mail from the post office box because the box rent had not been paid.

"It's not working," Ballengee said. "I feel we dont' work together."

PSD member and treasurer Shirley Mace said there had not been enough money to pay the box rent. "We're doing the best we can," Mace said.

She said once money came in, she paid the box rent for six months.

Ballengee said the Pit Stop, the Mt. Zion convenience store where she also works, had decided to stop accepting PSD bill payments. Instead of using the Grantsville address, PSD members decided to put a mailbox at their office at Mt. Zion.

Tom Fluharty and Dick Ullum, operating as B&T Battery Doctor, have a contract for $4,000 a month for services as water and sewer system operators.

Ullum said Monday night that the PSD owes the company between $50,000 and $60,000.

Ullum presented the PSD with a separate invoice for his services that amounted to nearly $12,000 on top of what is owed to B&T. He said the invoice is for services dating back to November, 2009.

He said he was in no hurry to be paid and wanted the invoice to be paid with one check, instead of smaller amounts.

Ullum complained that required monthly water test results are not being sent to the state because the testing company has not been paid.

He said that could threaten his license as a utility operator.

Mace said some of the overdue testing bills had been paid, but there were three more months to pay and no money to pay it.

"I'll pay it and put it on my bills," Ullum said. "I'm not going to jeopardize my license."

Ballengee began working as accounts receivable clerk at the same time Mace's daughter, Norma Collins, was hired as accounts payable clerk.

Ullum said there should be only one person doing the two jobs.

Mace and PSD chairman, Sharon Postalwait said that would create the same problems the PSD had in the past, when one secretary controlled everything. The other PSD member, Roscoe "Cokie" Gainer, did not attend the meeting.

Ullum said having one person in the office would not be the problem it was in the past.

"The board has oversight now," he said. "You look at the bills."

Mace said the situation should start to improve because a rate increase went into effect in March.

Mt. Zion buys all its water from the town of Grantsville, which imposed a 24% rate hike last July. Mt. Zion's increase that just went into effect amounts to a 15 percent increase for water and just under 10% for sewer, Mace said.

The PSD collected over $34,000 in payments last month, while the PSD's water bill was only $11,000.

"We were getting along well until this raise in July," Mace said. "We should be able to start paying some of these bills now."

Ullum said several water leaks had been repaired, which should also ease the PSD's financial problems. The WV Rural Water Association helped to locate several leaks, including a large leak in the Pine Creek area.

"That's the best money we've ever spent," he said of joining the association. Ullum estimated that 95 percent of the systems water leaks had been plugged.

PSD members, who receive $75 a month plus $50 for special meetings, have not been paid for almost three years, Mace said.

"We've been putting money from our own pocket into this thing to keep it going," Mace said.

The PSD was awarded a $50,000 grant from the state to make repairs to the sewage treatment plant, but since the money is not paid until the expenditures are made, the PSD borrowed $50,000 from Calhoun Banks to start on the repairs.

The PSD had hired Dunn Engineers to prepare a grant proposal for funds to repair the plant. Since they have not received anything from the firm, the PSD discussed terminating the engineering contract. No action was taken.

PSD members set a special meeting for 6 p.m. Monday at the West Fork Community Building in Arnoldsburg to discuss the vacancy created by Ballangee's resignation.

The next regular meeting is set for Monday, May 6 also at 6 p.m.

The PSD also discussed the W.Va. 16 waterline extension construction project that was shut down for winter.

Collins said engineer Hildreth reported the contractor [Allen] had run into problems working on an extension for the Spencer system, but hoped to resume work in the Arnoldsburg area soon.

"They plan to start any day," Collins said.

Read Times Record-Roane County Reporter

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