Ravenswood City Council on Tuesday approved the first reading of an ordinance establishing a water-rate increase to help fund a much-needed upgrade to the city’s water infrastructure.

The council also approved the first reading of an ordinance authorizing a bond to allow the city to borrow up to $500,000 for the design phase of the project.

The city hopes to complete a $5-million upgrade to the city’s water infrastructure in order to head off the catastrophic failure that would occur if the system was allowed to age unchecked, Mayor Josh Miller said.

The upgrade will result in increased water bills, but even after the increase, Ravenswood will still have the lowest water bills in the area, Miller said.

The breakdown of area water rates is as follows: Ripley $28.96, North Jackson County $31.31, Southern Jackson County $39.72, WV American Water $49.24, Mineral Wells $38.90, Ravenswood (current) $13.15, and Ravenswood (after) $23.71.

The second reading of the rate increase and bond ordinances will take place during the next council meeting set for 7 p.m. Jan. 8 at Ravenswood City Hall.

“There will be a time on the agenda to allow the public to speak before the final adoption,” Miller said.

If the rate increase passes, it will still have to go through proper procedure with the West Virginia Public Service Commission before it is implemented.

Informational pamphlets about the rate increase are available at Ravenswood City Hall, located at 212 Walnut St.

“We’re trying to get as much information as possible out there for people so they can understand what we’re doing and why it needs to be done immediately,” Miller said.

Dunn Engineering Inc. has been contracted to design the upgrades.

Currently, the city has 116,000 linear feet of water main lines, three 500,000-gallon water tanks, and a hydro-pneumatic pumping station.

First, the tanks must be recoated to prevent failure caused by corrosion, Hypes said. If the tanks are not re-coated, it would cost $300,000 or more to replace just one.

The project also will include the replacement of 3,000 feet of water line and 30 gate valves. The gate valves are of particular concern because they currently are not functioning correctly, which has led to major problems controlling leaks in the past.

The project also will involve replacing 1,808 manual-read water meters with new radio-read meters, Hypes said. It currently takes a city worker three weeks to manually read all of the meters in town. With modern radio-read meters, that work can be done in an hour, Miller said. The more modern units also are much more efficient at tracking abnormal water usage, so if there is a leak it can be identified much more quickly.

In addition to replacing water lines, valves and meters, the water treatment facility is in need of repairing and upgrading. The plant also needs an emergency generator so electricity can be supplied in the event of a power outage.

The project also would involve installing a telemetry system that would allow, among other things, the remote monitoring of water levels in the storage tanks.

Finally, upgrades would include the ability for citizens to pay their bills via debit or credit card, as well as the ability to pay online.

The city is applying for a USDA loan to finance the project, which will provide a significant savings versus the cost of going through private borrowers, Miller said. Officials hope construction can begin on the project by this time next year.

In other council business:

• Senator-elect Eric Tarr and Delegate-elect Joshua Higginbotham were present to introduce themselves to the mayor, council, and the public.

Miller said the city allows state officials to introduce themselves at meetings after elections so residents can become acquainted with their government representatives.

“We do it as a courtesy; it’s not a political thing. We just like for people to be able to put names and faces together,” Miller said.

• While Higginbotham and Tarr were at the meeting, the council approved a resolution supporting West Virginia Home Rule as a permanent program.

Miller discussed the importance of the state’s Home Rule Pilot Program and the need for legislators to make it a permanent fixture.

In 2007, the West Virginia Legislature created the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program and the Municipal Home Rule Board to oversee it.

Home Rule allows cities to implement ordinances, acts, resolutions, rules and regulations without regard to state laws, with the exception that proposals have to comply with the U.S. Constitution, the West Virginia Constitution and federal law, as well as the state’s Controlled Substance Act, the state statute titled “Crimes and Their Punishment” and the state statute titled “Criminal Procedure.”

The pilot program is set to expire in January. State officials will have to determine whether or not to allow the program to continue and whether additional cities will be allowed to participate.

The pilot program has allowed 30 cities in West Virginia to supersede state law and write ordinances to fit specific needs. Popular ordinances include consumer sales taxes and direct citations for code violations (such as nuisance properties).

“I think our legislators understand how much the cities want the permanent Home Rule Program. I think Home Rule is going to happen this year.

“If it doesn’t, it’s going to be a disaster for a lot of towns who want it and those who already have it, because without it they’re essentially violating state code. I don’t think the Legislature or the governor are going to let that happen.

Home Rule gives municipalities more power to address their specific needs.

“The whole idea is that we want more control over our future and the ability to meet these unique needs how we see fit. Everything doesn’t always fit into one bucket.”

• Council approved the 2019 Dash for Diabetes race for April 6. The event is sponsored by Coplin Health Systems and organized by Dr. Murrita Bolinger. Councilman Steve Tucker also is actively involved.

“It gets bigger and better every year. We appreciate them continuing to host the event here. We’ve had it the past two years,” Miller said.

• Police Chief Lance Morrison conducted promotion presentations for three officers on the department.

Detective Lt. Bobby Knox was promoted to captain to replace Capt. Joe Cogar, who retired recently. Cpl. Brandon Thompson and Cpl. Jonathan Garrett both were promoted to sergeant.

All three officers are a wonderful assets to the department and show great dedication to the city and its citizens, Miller said.

“If you just look back at some of the accomplishments, the resources, and the training that these guys have, it’s just amazing all the different things they’re involved in,” Miller said. “Chief Morrison and the guys, they stay well-trained. Capt. Knox has resources with the DEA and the FBI. He wears many hats. I think he’ll do his job well, and I think it’s well-deserved. I think his resources and knowledge are going to allow this police department to continue to excel.”

• The council approved the hiring of Taylor Campbell as an employee in the maintenance department.