Richard Welch was sworn in as general manager of the Clarksburg Water Board Friday morning.
Welch has a long history with the board. In 1975, he became the youngest person to be elected to the board at age 27. He was reelected four times and served a total of 18 years, and was president of the board for 13 of them. Also, Welch has been employed by the board as distribution coordinator since 1993.
In spite of the fact the Public Service Commission of West Virginia Tuesday ordered a general investigation of the board's practices, procedures and methods, Welch said he was eager to assume the duties of the position.
"I'm looking forward to working with the staff and the board members," Welch said. "I'm excited about the challenge. I want to thank the board for selecting me and we're ready to get down to business."
Welch added he questions the timing of the investigation, which had been declined twice by the Commission before Tuesday's order. He said he hopes the investigation will be conducted and completed quickly.
"What really concerns me is I know what we had to begin with and what it took to get to this point. The people of Clarksburg should be proud of the facilities and service we have," he said. "If you call other utilities, chances are you'll have to call an out-of-town 800 number and wait a day. Here, we normally respond within the hour.
"When's the last time you saw a boil water advisory on T.V.?"
Welch also said he believes the construction of the board's treatment plant has played a significant role in economic development, including the relocation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Justice Information Services to Clarksburg, and the board was never given due credit.
The issue of practices instituted by past boards, including overtime payments to salaried supervisors, free lifetime medical, prescription and life insurance coverage for former board members and $500 a month expense payments to a former board attorney for use of his home as an office arose when six municipalities and public service districts filed a protest of the board's 1999 request for a 15.9 percent rate increase. Critics contend those practices contributed to an operating deficit that has exceeded $400,000.
Welch said he believes the current board has satisfactorily addressed those issues by eliminating overtime for supervisors, limiting benefits for active members and trying to work out agreements with former members to phase out their insurance coverage, while one former member is paying premiums out-of-pocket. He also stated he will save the board $44,000 a year by incorporating the duties of distribution coordinator and general manager at an annual salary of $57,000.
Welch added the board is planning to issue a public statement in response to the investigation order after a briefing with an attorney. He does not anticipate any delays in the certificate of necessity case for a replacement for the Chestnut Street Water Tank as a result of the investigation order.
"I hope before they come in there are guidelines established so maybe we can appoint an employee to cooperate with them," he said. "I would like to see them come in as quickly as possible and do what they have to do so we can continue with our business."
Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442.