PRATT, W.Va. -- Officials in charge of the water plant for the town of Pratt owe the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board $36,000 in retirement premiums.The figure includes $4,000 in premiums deducted from employees' paychecks but never sent to the state, according to retirement board spokeswoman Diane Holley-Brown.Holley-Brown said the delinquencies date back to 2008.Under state law, public employees and their employers are required to pay into the state retirement system, Holley-Brown said. The Pratt water plant, which has three active and three retired employees, has not been making some of the payments.Holley-Brown said officials for Pratt's water board have been sent about 20 letters about the overdue premiums. She said representatives of the public retirement board are expected to attend a meeting of Pratt Town Council on Tuesday to talk about the problem."We have sent numerous delinquent letters to the Pratt water works," Holley-Brown said. "We're trying to work with the board and the city to resolve this issue."Members of the Kanawha County Commission, who have been trying to beg, beguile or bully Pratt into giving up control of its antiquated, problem-plagued water system for the past 10 years, are worried about the missed payments.Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy, whose parents live in Pratt, said he suspects the water board hasn't been able to afford the premium payments, and has used money withheld from employees for the premiums to pay other bills."I think the system is in worse shape than we thought," Hardy said. "They're not keeping up financially."
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper is also concerned."The first thing I want to know is why weren't [the payments] made?" Carper said. "Did they take money from employees and illegally spend it? Who did it?"Staff at the water plant could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Pratt Mayor Gary Fields said he was vaguely aware there had been problems with retirement payments, but said he did not know any details."I really don't understand it all," he said.Hardy said the delinquent payments prove local officials can no longer run the water plant in Pratt. "I think it's another symptom of the problem," he said.Town officials agreed recently to turn the aging water plant over to West Virginia American Water. Giving up control of the water plant would require a vote by the citizens of Pratt.
Town officials had hoped to put the water plant deal on the ballot with regular city elections next June. But Hardy said he will push for a special election to get the proposal on the ballot as soon as possible."The cost would be minimal [for a special election]," Hardy said. "There are only about 500 people who live in the town."A deal for West Virginia American Water to take over the water plant could be worked out by fall.Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1215.