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County water rates to spike 20%

by Hawes Spencer
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In what a group of water watchdogs fear could be a harbinger of harsher things to come, County water bills will spike 20 percent this year, if rates proposed by the Albemarle County Service Authority win approval. The increase would combine with last year’s 30 percent jump to mean customers would pay 55 percent more than just two years ago and nearly triple what they paid in 1999.

“It’s ridiculous,” says longtime Albemarle citizen Lucy Bennett. A catering company employee, the 24-year resident of Minor Ridge Road cites soaring fuel and other bills and says she’d like to sign a petition to roll back water rates. “Everything’s draining us right now,” she says.

The rates, recently advertised in the Daily Progress legal notices and posted on the Service Authority’s website, show water climbing 11 to 13 percent. But the bulk of the increase comes in sewer rates, which will jump 29 percent. For a family using 5,000 gallons per month, an amount in the mid-range of the three pricing tiers, the monthly bill would climb from $59.31 to $70.92— an annual hit to the pocketbook of $139.

“No one likes rates to go up,” says Service Authority director Gary Fern, who points to two causes: a rise in wholesale rates set in March by the area’s water supplier, the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority, as well as $7 million in pipe-replacement and other capital spending projects [spreadsheet]

On March 24, the Authority upped the rate it charges the County for water by 2.44 percent and the amount for sewer treatment by 10.54 percent, according to the current budget [PDF].

As for the County Service Authority’s capital projects, some big water line replacements include $286,300 for Reservoir Road, $842,200 for West Leigh subdivision, and, in what appears to be the biggest expense for a single customer (until one considers the talk of a nearby development), $252,700 to replace the old cast-iron water line to Camp Holiday Trails.

One of biggest sewer projects is $650,000 to replace septic tanks with sewer lines to improve the health of Moore’s Creek in the I-64/Fifth Street neighborhood called Oak Hill. The other is $1.3 million for the design phase of what might eventually be a $7 million project: creation of a new and expanded sewage pumping station for Camelot and Briarwood subdivisions, UVA Research Park, GE/Fanuc, the National Ground Intelligence Center, and eventually the proposed North Pointe development.

In recent days, a series of revelations about the water supplier’s decision to ditch dredging in favor of a controversial $143 million dam/pipeline/treatment upgrade have highlighted the fact that miffed water buyers may have little recourse when they disagree with spending decisions. Certainly they can’t get relief at the ballot box, as both Authorities are led by government-appointed boards.

Former Rivanna Authority director Rich Collins told radio listeners on WINA’s “Charlottesville, Right Now” program today that the various water boards are eyeing $400 million in capital projects that will eventually be borne by water buyers.

The City of Charlottesville, however, does give control of water/sewer rates– while still dependent on the wholesale rates set by the Rivanna Authority– to an elected body, the City Council. And Council will hold a public hearing on its water plan May 19. As for its water rates, not yet revealed publicly, that vote is set for June 2.

Aggrieved County residents can complain to the Service Authority’s board at its May 22 public hearing on Spotnap Road at 9am, but with so much of the spending coming from the wholesaler, the Rivanna Authority, there’s a worry that some people may have to vote with their feet.

Kevin Lynch, a former City Councilor and member of the watchdog group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply, says that sharp water rate increases [pdf] in recent years have allowed the Rivanna Authority to stockpile millions in cash. Indeed, the most recent annual report shows a balance in cash and investments of $30.65 million. Lynch believes this money will evaporate once work begins on state-mandated sewer improvements and the controversial dam/pipeline.

“The only reason they can keep rates down for the first few years is that they’re sitting on a pile of cash that they’ve been collecting from rate payers,” says Lynch. “This ought to be called the ‘Jim Gilmore’ water plan– burn up the surplus, and hide the inevitable deficit that the plan creates until it is too late for anyone to do anything about it.”

Recent comment from the business community has been mixed. William Crutchfield, founder and CEO of the mammoth national retailer bearing his name, has blasted the decision [RTF] to avoid dredging; however, the local chamber of commerce director, Timothy Hulbert, recently signaled his group’s reaffirmation of the $143 million plan.

  • 88 May 9th, 2008 | 7:33 am

    The Hook’s coverage (obsession?) with this issue has been so one sided, I’ve stopped having much faith in it’s objectivity.

  • TheTruthInLies May 9th, 2008 | 10:12 am

    what do you find bias about the coverage? is it that $220,000,000 to move mud from one place to another sounds suspect and a bit much??? or is it that dredging still hasn’t started where it needs to be done??? or maybe because the hook is mentioning consultants are being hired to consult about the consultants???
    when you are spending other people’s money it is always easy to spend.
    ignorance is bliss!

  • Betty Mooney May 9th, 2008 | 11:02 am

    May 19th is the city WATER RATE PUBLIC HEARING at 7:30 pm
    City Council Chamber.

    It is also the PUBLIC HEARING on the PROPOSED WATER PLAN open to city and county citizens, and your chance to advocate for including dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir as PART OF THE WATER SUPPLY which will maintain the Reservoir, something we as a community have failed to do for 40 years, and also give us plenty of water for 50 years at a far lower cost than a new dam and pipeline/pumpback system using enormous amounts of electricity in perpetuity. (see Crutchfield letter)

    This is your only shot city residents to speak out about the city spending $100million plus 100%cost overrun on a dam/pipeline proposal rather than considering dredging which gives us arguably all the water we need for 50 years and costs $25-30 million and could possibly provide fill for the airport extension at a discount helping them to build the extension which they desperately want, but lack the funding because of the high price of fill. The $275 thousand dollar feasibility dredging study could end up saving us tens of millions of dollars. In the meantime RWSA has awarded a $3.1 million dollar contract to their consultants Gannett Fleming to engineer the new dam at Ragged Mountain which may not even be needed ( see Crutchfield letter). If you are unhappy with the way YOUR MONEY is being spent and that your water and sewer rates will sky-rocket come on May 19th at 7:30 to the City Council Chambers and if you’re in the county demand a public hearing because the dam/pipeline will be a financial burden for rate payers for years to come. Let’s dredge and promote a sustainable solution for our watershed.

  • Fresh_Water May 9th, 2008 | 2:20 pm

    Yeah, 88, the Hook magically concocted a secret potion that brain-washed the Board of the Albemarle County Service Authority to raise the price of water 20%.

  • Grateful water user May 9th, 2008 | 3:16 pm

    Betty Mooney-
    The tireless effort that you and others have put into the issues of dredging, transparency in govt, etc are GREATLY appreciated by many of us in the Charlottesville/Albemarle area.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Cville Eye May 9th, 2008 | 5:31 pm

    88, is it that you feel your friends at the Nature Conservancy are being unfairly scrutinized or their opinions. I listened to Hawes Spencer discuss the issue of the furture of our reservoirs today with Jeff Werner of the Conservancy and have lost any trust in any opinion that comes from that group. Werner is not a friend of mine and he will never been. Thank you Mr. Spencer for being gentle. it’s so amazing how supposedly intelligent make their decisions based upon who’s in their click.

  • P.E.C. May 9th, 2008 | 5:49 pm

    Mr. Werner actually works for PEC, and PEC’s position is as follows:


  • Cville Eye May 9th, 2008 | 6:24 pm

    Thanks for the correction P.E.C. I believe I’ve already posted that my trust in P.E.C. died several days ago. On today’s show, he couldn’t see any difference in saying something needed to be replaced rather than fixed (huge $$$ differnce). He didn’t seem to realize that conclusions shouldn’t be based upon faulty data any more than it should be based on faulty reasoning. I hope Mr. Shilling will replay today’s show on one of his Saturday morning shows soon so that more people can witness the kind of muddled thinking that has been applied to de-mudding SFRR. It’s clear that many of the people that have been involved in this process locally are not avid practioners of the scientific method.

  • Cville Eye May 9th, 2008 | 6:27 pm

    Also, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Mr. Werner was worried more about who was responsible for an idea that it’s validity, thus he made several comments about Mr. Spencer when he should have been addressing the issues that he told Mr. Spencer that he shouldn’t have been bringing up.

  • joc May 9th, 2008 | 9:56 pm

    PEC is mostly interested in the easement piece or in getting people to sign off on their property rights. In the view of most, they have very little concern for environmental issues other than easements.
    PEC hangs with the wealthy. Look at their donor list. The rich couldn’t really care less about the water issues. They mostly have their own wells.
    PEC also hung with the liberal BOS members and their positions opposed to dredging.

  • Sidney May 9th, 2008 | 10:34 pm

    I respectfully disagree with the lopsided, if not rant-ish, tone of the Hook’s coverage on this issue, as well as the uninformed bashing of people and organizations which has transpired and seems to continue (see above).

    Thinking back to the many discussions on this issue two years ago and reading the points put forward on both sides of this issue now, it seems clear there is little point in risking a shortfall of water in the future by not following the already adopted water supply plan. For those who followed this debate several years ago, there is little question that the best solution was carefully considered and chosen.

    Projected demand clearly necessitates the approved plan, and this community’s commitment to environmental stewardship points toward the wisdom of following the path set forth by environmental groups (SELC,PEC, TNC) on which this community depends and trusts. To all of these groups, I extend my appreciation for your hard work- Keep up the fight!

  • Cville Eye May 10th, 2008 | 12:40 am

    Sidney, one discusses the menu for Foxfield or the dresses that bridesmaids will wear. Discussions are not the bases for problem-solving. You start with defining the problem, gathering pertinent data… Evidently this process was not done properly by any of the groups that you mentioned and therefore I can not say that they worked hard by sitting around a room and talking.
    “For those who followed this debate several years ago, there is little question that the best solution was carefully considered and chosen.” It seems that several of the people who closely followed then and now are still questioning it. Thank God everybody in Charlbemarle are not a pack of mindless sheep trying to go along to get along. Please explain to us all how clear-cutting 50,000 trees is “environmental stewardship.” I won’t wait for that explanation because it will take you too long to come up with a lot of twisted rhetoric (hot air).
    There is no logic is saying that because there is a plan involving the reservoirs there can’t be better ones. That kind of logic was probably used so that we now will have a McIntire Road Extension (Meadowcreek Parkway) and no Western Bypass and no Eastern Connector. Again, what’s the hurry. We have never had a water shortfall in my lifetime and I doubt if we’re going to have one anytime in the near future.
    Oh, I forgot to tell everyone that Jeff Werner said today on the Schilling Show that running the reservoir under I-64 is equivalent to having a country road crossing a portion of SFRR. I wonder if he thought of the differences in terms of the number of chemical-laden trucks that is carried by each.

  • joc May 10th, 2008 | 9:06 am

    Where is PEC with the Parkway issue? From what I hear, PEC wants to assist the county in getting this road pushed through ASAP.
    PEC works with the rich. The rich don’t want the connector roads in the county’s rural area. Where is most of this GOD AWFUL traffic generated? It is from the county. It is the BOS with support from the likes of PEC, who are driving the Parkway issue. The BOS has allowed the creation of too many developments, without infrastructure in place. Now the BOS and PEC are expecting the city to give up the park. PEC is unconcerned for the most part, with the consequences of ramming this highway through the city. Anyone notice PEC is not protesting the Parkway? I think we know why.

  • Cville Eye May 10th, 2008 | 9:12 am

    joc, I shall have to start paying more attention to these citizen advocacy groups, particulary to see if they are actually serving the interests of the few. Thanks.

  • joc May 10th, 2008 | 10:41 am

    Cville, thank you for bringing up some excellent points here. One more idea about the Parkway “connection”: Take a look at the higher profile pro-Parkway group. Most if not all, are city democrats who align with county/UVA democrats. Some are lawyers who work closely in some manner with/for the BOS, UVA, or with/for wealthy county residents. They support the county’s inaction in building rural connector roads. Why else would these Charlottesville based pro-Parkway folks want to tear up the central citys’ best land? If I were these people, I would be embarrassed to show my face at city council meetings. Many of the board members of PEC-SELC are monied rural residents.
    The good piece, citizens are seeing through the county driven politics.
    Sadly the problems with water are also largely and negatively impacted by these groups and their ties to politics.

  • County Farmer May 10th, 2008 | 11:31 am

    My goodness Cville Eye; the condescending manner of your comments in “one discusses” etc.(don’t you just hate the self proclaimed intellectuals that invariably quote your words during their tirade response) at least for me detracts from your message. I am very concerned that your(in your own mind)influence over readers of this forum is now diminished.

    With your above references to local high society events, may I assume that you work in the social coordinating field? This certainly would be in keeping with your “mysterious” identity. Also, this might explain how one has so much time during normal working hours to spend on the internet responding to almost everyone’s comments.

    BTW, I agree with you and others questioning the decision making process on this issue as well as those concerning landowner rights.

  • Cville Eye May 10th, 2008 | 12:13 pm

    “don’t you just hate the self proclaimed intellectuals that invariably quote your words during their tirade response” - I find nothing negative about your (or do you feel more comfortable with “you?”) objecting to my use of “one.” When I really want to put on the dog I also use “to whom” alot. If you really wanted to hear real condescension, you should have listened to Werner’s tone when speaking to Mr. Spencer on the Schilling Show. Mr. Spencer, however, must have been hell of wheels in his debate society. I will keep a look out on the WINA website to see if that show is audio-archived to give you an opportunity. In the meanwhile, please take the taime to re-read my post that you found so offensive. I think you will see my comments in a different light. Also, from what you can gleen of my personality by reading my posts, do you really think I could make a dime “in the social coordinating field?” I certainly wouldn’t hire me and from having read your posts, I don’t think you hire me either.

  • Jane May 10th, 2008 | 12:48 pm

    County Farmer,
    Please explain your comment relating to your “questioning the decision making process”.
    If the “end-result” is flawed, shouldn’t other options now be seriously considered? Shouldn’t PEC and other groups also be open to admitting they may have steered in the wrong direction? Disagreement and objections for the original plan are just too strong now. The push and reasonings for a re-make, are too convincing.

  • County Farmer May 11th, 2008 | 10:45 am

    Ceye, I don’t feel your talents lie in doing farm work so I don’t have anything for you at this time but I hear Hiliary always has use for another liberal in her camp.

    Jane, the sad fact is that the local government(which is majority democrat) works just like the national government in that it operates based on lobbyist influence, favoritism/special interest and the good old buddy system( you scratch my back and I will scratch yours). Obama talks a great talk about change but so have many others before him then once elected it is business as usual. Poor Jimmy Carter, who was our most honest President in recent times could accomplish very little and proved the axiom that it is hard to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys.

    I think it might be very interesting to investigate the relationship of Gannett Fleming with the local establishment. Remember, everyone has their own agenda and reason behind it.

  • Cville Eye May 11th, 2008 | 3:18 pm

    Country Farmer, I think the consultants’ relationship has been to take advantage of the ignorance of the RWSA’s board members (after all, they are not designing reservoirs every year) and have turned a $175,000 source of income into a multi-million dollar cow. Then, again, these days you never know whose family members and business partners have relationships with whom.

  • Family Guy May 11th, 2008 | 8:07 pm

    Why raise rates rather than sell the large property between Earlysville and Free Union, purchased for a reservoir that never panned out. Why are the rate payers and tax payers funding land purchases that are never used? Why are rates going up so property can be hoarded? It is a lot of land. Could it be sold to a land conservation trust? Could part of it be sold on the open market? If it’s publicly funded, shouldn’t it be opened up for public use if they refuse to sell it?




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