Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

April 10, 2013

Olive Hill Council spars with engineers

By Joe Lewis - Staff Writer
Journal-Times

April 10, 2013 —  

    The Olive Hill City Council held a special work session Tuesday night to discuss issues with the water backwash filtration system and the city’s electric rate ordinance.

    Representatives from E.L. Robinson Engineering, Inc. were on hand at the meeting to discuss the city’s concerns regarding the design of the system at the water plant - a design that the Mayor and Council members felt was not representative of their needs.

    “We presented the plans for the system we needed to the engineer, but he designed his own system instead,” said Jerry Callihan.

    On numerous occasions, Callihan had engaged in heated discussion with Paul Amburgey, the engineer who designed the filtration system, regarding its material weaknesses and ultimate inability to handle the capacity of water flow required to serve Olive Hill’s customers.

    “He screwed it up, plain and simple,” Callihan added.

    Amburgey was not on hand at the meeting, but Ray Tilley, Director of Operations for the Beckley branch of the company, did specifically respond to comments regarding previous work.

    “We admit that mistakes were made. We’re here because we want to come to a quick solution that’s in line with what you want,” Tilley said.

     According to Tilley’s estimate, construction costs to implement the revised plans would carry an estimated price tag of $125,000, with an additional cost of $45,000 to replace the existing filter media.

    At that point, the tension in the meeting became more palatable at the two sides expressed different opinions concerning who would be responsible for those costs.

    Tilley proposed that his firm would be willing to incur the cost of replacing the filter media if the city would take on the burden of funding the contract work. 

    Council, however, felt differently about the matter.

    “I can’t think of another service industry where the customer would be responsible for paying the costs to fix an error that they didn’t cause,” said Angie Johnson Fultz.

    “We feel like we paid for a service that we didn’t get,” added Callihan.

    Mayor Kenny Fankell then stated, “Neither I nor the Council feel like this is something that the city and its taxpayers should have to pay for.”

    The E.L. Robinson contingent, while expressing that they didn’t feel they were solely to blame for the situation, agreed at that point to consult with the contractor to see if they would be willing to help share some of the cost.

    It was agreed that the firm would return at the next regular City Council meeting with a firm idea of what costs it would be able to bear and what funds, if any, the city would have to contribute to fixing the errors in the filtration system.

    The Council then agreed on two new changes to the city’s electric rate ordinance.

    First, the provision that automatically switches customers to demand billing if they use more than 8,000 kilowatts in a single month will be removed from the ordinance entirely.

    Second, the meter testing policy requiring a $50 deposit for customers who wish to dispute their bills will be reinstated as a measure to prevent abuse of the system.

    “Every time we change out a meter because someone complains about their bill, the city incurs a cost. We lose money just shipping it off for testing,” said Callihan.

    “If something is truly wrong with the meter, we realize that’s our responsibility to fix. But if there isn’t, then we need a way to help offset our losses.”

    The Mayor and Council were quick to point out that this policy only applies to customers wishing to dispute charges on their bills.    Meters that are obviously malfunctioning will still be replaced by the city as needed.

    The first reading of the proposed changes to the electric rate ordinance will take place at the next regular City Council meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16 at the Olive Hill Senior Community Center.

    Joe Lewis can be reached at  jlewis@journal-times.com or by telephone at 286-4201.