A water-rate increase to help pay for major infrastructure renovations is on the agenda for the next meeting of Ravenswood City Council.

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. Jan. 9 at Ravenswood City Hall located at 212 Walnut St. There will be an opportunity for public comment prior to the final vote. The first reading of the ordinance was approved in early December.

The city hopes to use the funds generated by the increase to pay for a $5-million upgrade to the water infrastructure. The city’s water system has not been upgraded in years. Failure to do it now could cause major problems down the road, Mayor Josh Miller said.

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 project will include improvements to the city’s water lines and tanks, as well as updates to the pumping station, and new radio-read water meters. Also, city residents will be able to pay their city bills online or by debit or credit card at city hall.

“The best message that I can deliver for the water project is that we’re on our way to switching our water infrastructure over to modern-day technology. I think that’s essential,” Miller said.

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

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 up to 50 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.

“This will allow us to turn water off in different parts of the city without having to shut down entire sections. The situation I bring up to illustrate this occurred right before I came into office. We had a leak near Par Mar and we couldn’t get the valve to shut off because it wasn’t functioning properly. So we had to shut down most of the commercial district. We want to replace these and strategically place them so that if we have a water-main break or a line break, we won’t have to shut off water to half the town in order to service the town. When people’s homes are without water, it’s not something we want to see happen,” Miller said.

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.

“Right now, it takes our water guy probably three weeks to read all the meters. Once the radio-read meters are installed, he can now read the entire town in an hour. The software will be able to tell citizens when they have abnormal water usage like a leak,” Miller said.

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.

“It’s stuff that has to happen. It’s been a long time since we’ve done any infrastructure work in Ravenswood,” Miller said.

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.

“I wanted to find a feasible financial path forward. I really hope that the city of Ravenswood can work with the USDA to get the low-interest loan. That would greatly reduce the burden on our citizens,” Miller said.

Once the second reading is approved, the public will have a 45-day window to protest the rate increase with the West Virginia Public Service Commission before it goes into effect. Miller said all of the paperwork needed to file a protest is available at city hall. So far, no one has opposed the increase, he said.

Miller said he believes that is because the city has been as transparent as possible about what the increase involves and why the infrastructure upgrade is so important to the city. The city has distributed informational pamphlets, which are still available at city hall, and has talked about the project in the media in order to inform city residents. In addition, a town hall meeting was conducted to discuss the project, and the meeting was publicized before and after the fact.