Sper­ryville sewer rates to jump

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Wing­field Rap­pa­han­nock News staff ...ap­pears on rapp­news.com

Af­ter two hours of pre­sen­ta­tions and heart­felt pub­lic com­ment, the Rap­pa­han­nock County Wa­ter & Sewer Author­ity (RCWSA) voted to raise waste­water treat­ment rates for its 200-plus cus­tomers in the vil­lage of Sper­ryville by 18 per­cent, ef­fec­tive July 1.

Af­ter two hours of pre­sen­ta­tions and heart­felt pub­lic com­ment, the Rap­pa­han­nock County Wa­ter & Sewer Author­ity (RCWSA) voted to raise waste­water treat­ment rates for its 200-plus cus­tomers in the vil­lage of Sper­ryville by 18 per­cent, ef­fec­tive July 1.

As chair­man Rick Les­sard ex­plained Thurs­day night (June 12), the rate in­crease — the sec­ond 18-per­cent in­crease in two years — would raise Sper­ryville res­i­dents’ monthly bills by $6 (from $34 to $40). Plans were in place, Les­sard con­tin­ued, to make any fu­ture in­crease more man­age­able — in the three- to five-per­cent range.

Us­age rates had also been in­creased, Les­sard said, for the town of Wash­ing­ton and Rap­pa­han­nock County Pub­lic Schools, both of which the Sper­ryville waste­water plant ser­vices. Wash­ing­ton’s rates rose by 18 per­cent for fis­cal year 2015, while RCPS’ rates rose 20 per­cent.

Les­sard added that the author­ity op­er­ates “on a shoe­string budget due to past man­age­ment,” and that the rate in­creases were an ef­fort to in­crease the author­ity’s rev­enue so it could start re­plac­ing the 30-year-old plant over the years, rather than all at once “so we don’t get hit with that jolt.”

A $6 monthly in­crease would only gen­er­ate about $20,000, Les­sard said.

Orig­i­nally opened in 1985, Les­sard said the plant is near­ing the end of its ex­pected life­span and will need to be re­placed at some point. While it was orig­i­nally built for $1.1 mil­lion, Les­sard said he and the author­ity mem­bers doubted it would cost so lit­tle to­day.

Some things have al­ready started go­ing wrong, Les­sard said, as the equal­iza­tion tank crum­pled and failed dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Sandy in 2012 — ne­ces­si­tat­ing a re­pair by lo­cal welder Rick Nawrocki, which he said saved the author­ity from hav­ing to re­place the $200,000 tank.

“We need money in the bank in the event of a cat­a­strophic prob­lem,” Les­sard said. Last year’s rate in­crease — the first in 15 years — was the first step to­ward this. Most of the author­ity’s $148,000 op­er­at­ing budget comes from its Sper­ryville cus­tomers ($126,000); $26,000 comes from the town, while the re­main­ing $32,000 comes from RCPS.

Nonethe­less, sev­eral of the 12 people gath­ered in the court­house dis­puted the ne­ces­sity of the rate in­creases and of­fered some al­ter­na­tives for the author­ity to con­sider. Ruth Kiger, a for­mer mem­ber of the author­ity board, spoke first and strongly urged the author­ity not to raise the rates.

“You’ve done some won­der­ful work,” Kiger said, “but the bot­tom line is . . . Sper­ryville was a very low-in­come area, and I don’t think that’s in­creased very much . . . It’s wrong in ev­ery way, shape and form . . . I would ask you to con­sider the hard­ship this will place on the ma­jor­ity of people in this town.”

Kiger also said she’d talked to many Sper­ryville res­i­dents — most of whom de­clined to come to the meet­ing be­cause they didn’t think it would make a dif­fer­ence. Kiger said she thinks Sper­ryville is of­ten viewed as “an ugly step­sis­ter” by the rest of Rap­pa­han­nock, and sug­gested the county should take over oper­a­tion of the plant.

“It seems to me the county could step up to the plate here.”

Sev­eral other Sper­ryville sug­gested the board could look at other cost-sav­ings mea­sures. Sherri Fickel, co-owner of Hop­kins Or­di­nary B&B, agreed that it made sense for Sper­ryville res­i­dents to shoul­der some of the plant’s costs but ques­tioned how much the town and school sys­tems would have to pay some­one

else for the plant’s ser­vices. Fickel also won­dered how closely the author­ity had looked at its budget and ex­penses, and sug­gested a pub­lic in­for­ma­tion cam­paign de­tail­ing what people should keep from wash­ing down their drains could help de­fer fu- ture main­te­nance costs.

Thorn­ton River Grille’s Andy Thomp­son said he was in fa­vor of “what­ever it takes to keep the plant up and run­ning,” as his restau­rant is com­pletely de­pen­dent on it. He did, how­ever, ask the author­ity to con­sider how the raise would im­pact its cus­tomers, es­pe­cially those on a tight budget.

The four at­tend­ing author­ity mem­bers then re­sponded to most of the au­di­ence’s ques­tions, solic­it­ing their help in gen­er­at­ing ideas or grants to help fund the plant.

“I don’t want to have to pay more to flush my toi­let ei­ther,” agreed author­ity mem­ber Andrew Ha­ley, of Ha­ley Fine Arts. “But we’re be­ing wildly op­ti­mistic about the plant’s re­main­ing life . . . I’ve been out there, I’ve seen the rust . . . [and] I’m all for a rate in­crease as a sys­tem user.”

County at­tor­ney Peter Luke ad­dressed sev­eral au­di­ence ques­tions, in­clud­ing the mat­ter of the plant’s own­er­ship. Luke as­serted that the author­ity owned it. “And if you want to fill this court­house, pro­pose that the county take over the fa­cil­ity,” Luke said with a laugh. “I can tell you, from a po­lit­i­cal stand­point, that’s just not go­ing to hap­pen.”

Les­sard spoke last, ac­knowl­edg­ing the author­ity could do cer­tain things bet­ter and thanked the pub­lic for at­tend­ing and for the com­ments. “We’re a vol­un­teer board,” Les­sard added, “and any­thing the com­mu­nity could do for us would be help­ful. We’re not un­sym­pa­thetic, and we’re not just here to push a rate in­crease.”

The author­ity then unan­i­mously passed the rate in­crease, 4-0.

(Mem­ber Keir Whit­son was ab­sent.)

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