CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County will give the financially beleaguered town of Pratt $20,000 in coal severance funds to help the town continue providing water to residents.
County commissioners unanimously favored giving the town the money, which will be used to buy a new intake pump for the town's water treatment plant.
The old pump, which pulls water into the plant, recently malfunctioned because of advanced age, Mayor Gary Fields said.
The city rented a pump for about $2,000 a week to keep providing water to its customers, including Pratt Elementary School. But after the Internal Revenue Service slapped Pratt with about $150,000 in tax liens, it could no longer afford the rent payments, Fields said.
West Virginia American Water came to the rescue on Sept. 13 and loaned the city a pump, he said.
"What happens if there's no pump?" Commission President Kent Carper asked.
"There's no water," Fields said.
Commissioners asked Sean Graves, West Virginia American Water's director of operations, if he could help Pratt secure a permanent pump. He agreed to do so.
Commissioners have worked to get West Virginia American Water to take over the struggling Pratt Waterworks for weeks. City leaders hope a sale will enable them to pay off the liens.
Graves said his employer is still reviewing the town's financial documents and should have an answer about whether it is interested in taking over the water works on an interim basis by the next county commission meeting.
The county will also pay off about $32,000 the town owed to the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board. The retirement board has agreed not to sue the town as long as it receives $200 per week.
The county will pay $200 a week until the water company is sold and then will recoup the money from the proceeds, Carper said.
Town residents must approve the sale of the water company during a special election.
"We'll pay it ($200) up until the day after the election and if the sale isn't approved, we'll stop paying," Carper said.
Commissioners also voted to withhold $20,000 from the Chesapeake, Handley, Tornado, Smithers and Lakewood volunteer fire departments until the agencies provide financial records.
Commissioners recently voted to require the agencies to provide tax records in order to receive the annual $20,000 donation by the commission. Agencies that don't have the tax records can fill out a form provided by the county, Commissioner Dave Hardy said.
Carper was the lone commissioner to vote against the motion to withhold the funds. Instead, Carper wanted to vote to approve the payments for all agencies and then withhold the funding only if the five departments failed to show their documentation before picking up the checks.
"We just started this program," Carper said.
However, Hardy argued that the form that could be provided in lieu of the tax records was not difficult to fill out. Carper then asked him why he wanted to wait two weeks until the next meeting to provide the funds.
"Because I want to look at the documents," Hardy said about the forms provided by the agencies.
Commissioners also provide Public Safety Grant funds generated by the county's excess levy to the tune of $846,670 to 26 volunteer fire departments and five paid agencies as well as 10 law enforcement departments.
The commissioners also signed a letter of intent indicating the county would purchase 20 vehicles powered by compressed natural gas.
Matt Ballard, president of the Charleston Area Alliance, an agency that is involved in the Kanawha Converts Consortium, was on hand to accept the letter of intent.
Kanawha Converts is an association made up of various public and private entities pushing for conversation of large fleets of vehicles to compressed natural gas.
Ballard has also secured letters of intent from the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority for eight vehicles and Mountaineer Gas for three vehicles.
Other agencies and companies are still reviewing the letter of intent.