A handful of concerned citizens attended last Monday evening’s Morehead City Council meeting to share their concerns over a water rate increase implemented by the Morehead Utility Plant Board (MUPB) that will become effective July 1.

During the meeting, Council voted in agreement with MUPB and passed the first reading of an ordinance to increase the water rate by $2.49 for the first 2,000 gallons.

The average household of four uses 4,000 gallons, raising their average water bill about $4.50 a month.

Since MUPB General Manager Holly McGrath-Rosas was hired nearly four years ago, she said she has studied the critical aging water, sewer and gas infrastructure, along with the Water and Wastewater Plants.   

McGrath-Rosas reported to Council that she has identified numerous and potentially catastrophic issues that must be addressed for the health and safety of the public. 

These issues have been discussed with Council and supported by the MUPB over the last four years. 

The first major issue McGrath-Rosas addressed was the Water Treatment Plant. 

“Its age, unreliability, lack of maintenance and the fact that the capacity has hit its maximum was brought to the MUPB and Council in 2016,” she said. “The plan was to raise water rates over the next five years to accommodate the three-phase project of the new plant.”

This rate increase (2019-20) will mark the third year of the planned five years of water increases to fund the Water Treatment Plant.

The first phase is a new raw water intake, which was funded by Kentucky Infrastructure Authority this year in the amount of $5,257,000 and will begin construction this summer.

The second phase is the construction of a new water plant and the third phase, a new storage tank and upgrades to the critical distribution infrastructure. 

In the 2018-2019 budget year, MUPB has spent nearly $790,000 on repairs and maintenance to their water system.

In 2016, McGrath-Rosas brought to the MUPB and Council a sewer capacity study conducted in phases to identify the problem areas in the sewer infrastructure. 

In the 2018-19 budget year, MUPB addressed the failing sewer system.

MUPB has paid for the engineering and KIA funded a total of $3,850,000 in the MMRC-801 South Sewer Expansion project.

“This will give us the capacity we need out in that area considering growth and resolve hundreds of sanitary sewer overflows,” Holly said. “We continue in our efforts to repair and rehabilitate the sewer lines, manholes, and lift-stations in our system. This year we have spent $889,000 on these type repairs. We will continue to repair and maintenance our system for the good of all and the health and safety of the public.”

McGrath-Rosas also stated that there were serious, potentially hazardous conditions in our natural gas system.

“We have approximately four miles of old original steel line that must be replaced because of age and excessive leaks,” she said. “This will cost about $2 million, but our revenue cannot sustain us to make the repairs as needed.”

Gas rates have not increased in the city since 2001.

“We will be looking to address this in the next fiscal budget year,” she said.

The water rate increase passed 5-1.

Council member Tom Carew voted no and reiterated from last year that he would still like to see a service for low-income households who may struggle to pay the increasing bill.

Brad Stacy can be reached at bstacy@themoreheadnews.com or by telephone at 784-4116.

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