Commonwealth Journal

October 6, 2013

Somerset, Ferguson make pact on water & sewers

Residents will see utility bills decrease

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Somerset and Ferguson share many borders with each other, and so it only makes sense the municipalities would share utility systems. 
During the Sept. 23 Somerset City Council meeting, a resolution was read that would ultimately transfer Ferguson’s gas and sewage systems and assets to Somerset in an effort to streamline services and provide cheaper bills for residents. 
The two cities, through meetings between Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler and Ferguson Mayor Allen Dobbs and between legal counsel, have been working on an agreement for more than a year. Somerset already provides water service to Ferguson residents, but through the new agreement, the larger municipality will take over the operations of Ferguson’s sewage and gas systems in an effort to bypass some hand-switching when it comes to billing customers.  
“We’ve always had a long-standing tradition of working with Ferguson,” said Girdler during the meeting. 
Somerset had already franchised through Ferguson, and provided maintenance assistance on the system. 
Now, Somerset will assume all responsibility for those systems — under the condition that Somerset pays Ferguson around $65,000 yearly. Water bills will remain unchanged since Somerset already operates that service, but Girdler during the council meeting said Ferguson residents could see sewer rates decrease by $2 per month, and they could see a 25 percent decrease on natural gas bills.
“Anytime you can give residents a reduction in their utility costs, it’s a good thing; anytime you can help them save money, that’s a good thing,” Dobbs told the Commonwealth Journal in July when asked about the agreement. “We’re pretty excited about it.”
Girdler said that, with the sewer system under Somerset’s jurisdiction, sewer system expansion through parts of the small city may be more possible through state and federal help. 
“There is a very ... good possibility we will receive funding to expand sewer in Ferguson,” said Girdler. 
Girdler called the agreement an “historical” one, and said it shows a “strong working relationship between two cities.
“It won’t change any of the dynamics of what we’re doing now but we’ll just own it ... (it will) drastically decrease the cost,” Girdler added. 
The council approved the resolution unanimously. 
“It’s a win-win situation for both of us,” said Councilor Mike New. 
Other city officials agreed. 
“That’s what good neighbors are for, they help each other,” said Councilor Jim Rutherford. 
Councilor Jim Mitchell said his sister, a Ferguson resident, will “definitely appreciate” the discount on her utility bills, especially as winter rolls around. 
The agreement hinges on approval from both city councils. 
Dobbs said Ferguson’s councilors plan to look at the agreement at their meeting on Monday.
“We haven’t seen the written agreement yet,” said Dobbs. “Hopefully, it’ll go pretty smooth once everybody looks at it and gets comfortable with it.”
If Ferguson councilors approve the resolution, the new agreement should kick in just in time for the colder months — when the cost benefit will be felt the most. 
“We’re trying to get this in place before the cold gets here so we can help everybody’s pocketbooks,” said Dobbs. 
In other news from the Sept. 23 Somerset City Council meeting:
• The council heard the first reading of Ordinance 13-19, an amendment to the city’s liquor license and sales ordinance, which includes newly-added details to the state’s liquor regulations. Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese said the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control statutes need to be updated yearly to include any changes made at the legislative level. 
Included in the state’s updated regulations are changes to the licensing structure, and a section that emphasizes that warrants are not required to search premises where alcohol is sold. 
Wiese said the city changed its training section, which mandates that businesses use the state’s STAR training system for liquor sales classes. 
Also included is a mandate that “no licensee will erect any banner that displays a particular brand of alcohol outside property.” Wiese said that was already in the city’s original ordinance, but it has been made more obvious.
• Councilor Donna Hunley asked whether the city would place sidewalks in the Bogle and Ham Street areas and on West Ky. 80. 
“There are so many people that walk in that area,” said Hunley. 
Girdler said the city is looking into adding more sidewalks on North Main Street, along with Ham and Bogle Streets. 
“All locations in the city, we’re trying to do some sidewalk work this fall,” said Girdler.
• Councilor John Ricky Minton, who has been quiet in the past several months about local gas prices, thanked local retailers for keeping prices “pretty much in line” with prices in other counties and cities. Minton and other councilors have long decried what they said are unfair gas prices in the area. 
 “This is there home town and their people,” said Minton. “They need to take care of their people here ... if they want to raise the prices elsewhere then do it, they can hear from them.” 
Minton assured local gas retailers that, should gas prices jump, he will voice his concerns again. 
Councilor Jerry Burnett also mentioned local gas prices. He thanked managers at Kroger North for keeping prices down recently, even after a “competitor across the street” raised the price significantly. 
“I think it’s great,” said Burnett. 
• The council authorized the purchase and future demolition of the Economy Inn property, located on Monticello Street. The city plans to use the property the inn now sits on as part of a major economic development project. 
• Girdler asked that the council approve a request from Elaine Wilson, with Somerset Community College, to participate in the college’s Black History Month program. February is designated Black History Month. Girdler said the college’s program will feature a guest appearance from someone who participated in the U.S. Civil Rights movement. 
The council earmarked $5,000 to go towards the event.