"This town is in  trouble and it  must be fixed"
by James Fisher
STAFF WRITER

    Anmoore Mayor B.L. "Pete" Grogg told town council and about 35 citizens attending Monday night's council meeting that he does have a large past-due water bill. "Without hurting someone in my family, I owe it," he said. "If I had the money, it would be paid today."
    According to February water records obtained by the Clarksburg Exponent and Telegram, the mayor and his wife, the town recorder, owe more than $2,000 in past-due water bills. Records show that about 33 percent of the town's 543 water customers are at least 30 days delinquent on their water and sewer bills, including several relatives of council members, a council member and a former council member.
    Grogg refused Monday to comment further about how his bill became past-due, however. Grogg did say that shut-off notices will be sent out this week to Anmoore water and sewer customers whose bills are not current or who have refused to sign a payment plan contract with the town.
    Grogg also said Monday that he once prohibited Anmoore's water clerk, Kim Hinerman, from shutting off water to one man. He said the man was housebound and was low-income. "I stand by that," he said. "As far as other people's water, I did not say not to. I've had people come to me and ask me, but I told them I can't get involved."
    Hinerman had said last week that the mayor had sometimes prevented her from doing her job by telling her to keep water service flowing to people who hadn't paid their bills.
    During Monday's council meeting, residents had several questions and council members several comments about the 177 past due accounts on the February records. "I am troubled today, and I have been troubled for a while," Councilman James Wilkinson said. "We've been put in the spotlight. What are we supposed to say? This is all over water bills we weren't even allowed to see until three weeks ago, when it was dropped in our laps."
    Hinerman, the town water clerk, gave the five council members, who constitute the Anmoore water board, the water records and delinquent account information about a month ago, Wilkinson said. Hinerman supplied the records during a special meeting to discuss water bill accounts and water board procedures and policies.
Prior to that time, Grogg told council members they didn't need to know about the accounts, said Harry Hathaway, president of the Anmoore Good Government Association, a local watchdog group.
    "This goes back to the fact that you five council members should have been watching the water bills from the get-go in 1994, Hathaway said. "You are the water board. You should have been watching the bills. Mr. Wilkinson asked before, and was told in so few words, it's none of your business.
    "This council has been uninformed and misinformed," he said. "This town is in trouble and it must be fixed."
The town's water department, with total revenues of $123,184, recorded a deficit of $9,536 for fiscal year 1998 and has been operating with a deficit for at least the past three years, according to state Public Service Commission records. The PSC has opened an investigation into the management and operation of the water board.
    Deborah Palmer, council member and wife of Councilman Curtis Palmer, agreed that council should have been informed about the water bills. "I'm not pleased, and I haven't been pleased," she said. "This was brought to our attention and we didn't know anything about it."
    Grogg said he had a large outstanding water bill and would pay it. According to February records, Grogg was 90 days late on an account in his name and owed a total of $99.75 as of Feb. 9. His wife and town recorder, Connie Grogg, filed a payment plan in her name with the town in September 1998 for overdue water bills totaling $2,366.15. Someone made a payment of $325 on her bill Wednesday, dropping the balance to $2,041.15.
    Councilwoman Anna Harvey, whose water records for Feb. 9 showed she had a total account balance of $93.97 and was 30, 60 and 90 days past due on parts of it, said her overdue bill was the result of a computer glitch. She said when the Feb. 9 water bills were printed, she didn't have any past due bills. The only amount she owed was the current month's bill of $44.73. That bill was due by March 5 and was paid on time, Harvey said.
    "I know there are other accounts that are not correct," she said. "Whether it's the computer or the clerk, I don't know."
Harvey also said her mother's past-due bill was the result of a substantial leak in the water pipes under her trailer. The leak wasn't discovered until the bills went up. Harvey's mother, Patty Fragmin, had an account balance of $142.75 and was 30, 60 and 90 days late on parts of it, according to the February records. Harvey explained that her mother is on a limited income but is making regular payments on the bill.
    Grogg said the rules and regulations concerning delinquent accounts are established by the PSC. Many small towns have problems collecting past-due bills, he said. "'As far as the clerk goes, I think she does a wonderful job with the accounts,'" he said.
    Grogg and other council members contend the water bill problem has been left over from past administrations.
But several town members spoke out against that view. "You've let it go so far that now these people can't pay," said Carl Amsler. "This is somebody's fault and you can't blame everybody else."



Clarksburg finds funds for city employee pay raises
by James Fisher
STAFF WRITER

    Clarksburg City Council's proposed 2 percent across-the-board pay increase plus special assignment pay is a step in the right direction, Police Chief Raymond Mazza said today.
    Local police union President Robert Matheny said he agreed, but also said the pay increase is 10 percent less than what the union asked for.
    "At this point, we're not exactly thrilled, but we realize you have to walk before you can run," Matheny said. "But we are happy that they are talking to us and that there's been no change in the overtime policy."
    A budget session meeting Monday afternoon was a good one, Matheny said. But police officers still want a 12 percent raise, he said. "The special assignments pay helps get us closer to that number," he said.
A union meeting is set for 3:30 p.m. today, and Matheny said he didn't want to say much more about the proposed budget until after the union as a whole decides its stance.
    Clarksburg City Council is slated to vote on the budget during Thursday night's meeting, according to Mayor Louis J. Iquinto. The issue of pay raises has been  much-debated during this year's budget sessions. Local 119 of the International Union of Police Associations wanted council to approve a 12 percent increase for the police department.
"They knew we couldn't do that this year," Iquinto said. "We'll continue to try to address pay issues each year."
    The fact that the city administration is willing to sit and talk with union negotiators and discuss pay increases is a positive step, Matheny said. "We feel that if this budget doesn't include the 12 percent, they will work with us in the future," Matheny said.
    Mazza said he did not want to comment about the proposed pay increase until after gauging reaction from today's union meeting, but said he believed council was trying to work with everybody involved.
    Council, faced with dwindling revenues and no desire for raising taxes, made budget decisions during Monday's session.
"They eliminated several capital programs I had recommended," City Manager Percy Ashcraft said. "They wanted to put more emphasis on employees first and try to go back and look at capital programs if funds become available."
Council found $137,000 to cover the cost of the 2 percent pay increase as well as the special pay.
    Under the special pay provision, police, firefighters and public works employees would make an additional 35 cents per hour for work performed on the  3-11 p.m. shift and the 11 p.m.-7 a.m. shift.
    Mazza said the special pay provision was designed to cover what he called "special assignments and special details" and would apply to everyone who works during those hours. "The special pay is a good step," Matheny said. "We've been working on getting it for a while."
    The special assignment pay works out to about $486 per person per year, Ashcraft said. The proposed budget also calls for the city to change its insurance program.
    "Council is moving forward on plans to switch to a preferred provider organization," Ashcraft said. "That could provide an estimated savings of $75,000-100,000."
    Ashcraft said council members also planned to keep the city's compost facility open for at least one more year. They hope to market the facility better in hopes of making it profitable.



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