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Pratt water plant sale 'sinking' town's only hope

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The only way Pratt town officials can dig themselves out of an ever-deepening financial hole is to sell the town's outdated water plant to West Virginia American Water.

"We're sinking. I know it and you know it," Pratt Mayor Gary Fields admitted to Kanawha County commissioners Kent Carper, Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores at a regular meeting Thursday.

The meeting marked the second time in a row county commissioners asked Fields in to discuss the town's finances. Pratt owes the state retirement board about $32,000, and has IRS tax liens filed against both the town itself and the water plant.

Between the liens, penalties and interest, Pratt owes about $150,000, according to town attorney Larry Kopelman.

Hardy told Fields he was not trying to pick on the town, and conceded that the mayor inherited many of the town's financial problems. But he said county officials need to know about the town's finances to help find a solution to the problem.

"We have to define the problem at some point," Hardy said. "Pretty soon you're going to have to put it out on the table. How much does the town owe?"

Pratt keeps an average bank balance of about $1,100. Although town officials have been making payments on the IRS liens, Pratt has very little income and continued maintenance costs at the aging water plant.

After years of resistance, Pratt officials have agreed to turn over the water plant to West Virginia American Water, assuming the water company is still willing to buy the plant.

"It's the one chance you've got to pay off your debt," Hardy said.

Hardy said the good news is the water plant is worth about $466,000. But Pratt still owes almost $275,000 on the facility. Coupled with the town's $150,000 debt, Kopelman conceded the price the town would have to ask for the plant and to retire the debt might be more than West Virginia American Water officials are willing to pay.

But county officials might be able to help in that event, too. On Thursday, Carper asked the county's grant-writing team to look around for grants that might sweeten the deal if West Virginia American Water agrees to buy the water plant.

County officials also agreed to pay up to $2,000 for legal work to put the sale of the water plant on the ballot in Pratt. Town citizens would have to vote to give up control of the facility.

Also Thursday, Hardy and Charleston Area Alliance president Matt Ballard announced the makeup of a task force created to help save the county's recycling program. The program has been severely curtailed since the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority was forced to close its main sorting facility on Slack Street in March.

Hardy and Ballard said a team of engineers, business people and others with knowledge about recycling will meet to try to figure out how to salvage the recycling program.

"We're going to try to do a very tight time frame," Ballard said, and return with a report within 60 days.

The task force will include someone from the Solid Waste Authority's board of directors, outgoing Solid Waste director Norm Steenstra, Kevin Coyne of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Lois Gillenwater of Pray Construction Co., Bob Pepper of NGK, former West Virginia American Water official Wayne Morgan, CAMC recycling director Joe Tucker, state solid waste director Mark Holstine and a representative from the city of Charleston. Two staff members from the Charleston Area Alliance and two from the County Commission will also help.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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