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Public hearing to raise water and sewer fees . . . continued

Town Council held its public hearing to decide the issue of raising water and sewer rates and connection fees on January 8. The proposed rate increase has been a subject of regular meetings since January 2007 when it was first introduced by Town Manager Tim Krawczel.
During its development many citizens have spoken out against the increase, causing it to be revamped with various different proposed rate increases. Each time the amount is changed a new hearing has been set.

The latest proposal is the combined efforts of a committee comprised of five members; Council members Karen Payne, Sparkey Ridgley, Director of Public works, Robert (Rob) Murphy, Chief financial officer, Joan Grant and the Acting Town Manager, Val Foulds.

Krawczel’s original proposal was to raise water and sewer fees by roughly 41%. The newest proposal would, if passed, be a 20% increase. Combined water and sewer rates would be $600.00 per year and connection fees would be raised to $9600.00 until June 30th when they would increase to $12,000.00 on July 1st.

Karen Payne explained that the raised fees are needed to cover the 6 million dollar grant for new upgrades to the power plant that were required by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and that more improvements will ultimately be needed. Payne said the cost of running the plant has increased as well as the need for a larger crew. The town is scheduled to start repayment of the grant in January, 2010 at the cost of $2,671,606.00 a year.

“The fees have not been raised in 14 years and we are paying for that lack of attention now,” Payne said.

The first to oppose the rate hike was Jay Breedon who said, “I don’t believe this time is the right time to raise anything in this town.” Breedon spoke of the elderly as well as construction workers who are out of work due to the slow housing market. “This council turned down another tax earlier.”
Breedon said he feels the elderly are being asked to pay the burden.

John Gleason asked why this meeting could not be postponed and heard during the summer when the summer people are here and senior citizens could get to the meetings.

Three representatives from the Monroe Point housing project spoke in opposition of raising connection fees.  Monroe Point is the plaintiff in a case against the town. The company is seeking relief from certain aspects of their contract to replace vegetation as per requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Act. Jonathan Natelson, One of the developers of Monroe point Subdivision was the key speaker for the group.

He began by saying “We, meaning all of us, are facing a financial crisis. The government is taking action to try to stimulate the housing market.” He apprised the Council of their production at Monroe point reporting that the company has 65 homes built and are building 40 more homes. The company has had negative sales in the last 3 months meaning there have been no new sales and there have been cancellations. Natelson says they have cut prices to “at cost of production” to keep the project alive.

“We understand that the town has financial needs especially in the Water and Sewer plant. We don’t expect the connection fee to stay static forever but we absorbed an increase in connection fees about 3 years ago. We are asking that you defer an increase in connection fees until there is a demonstrable change in the housing market in Colonial Beach.

 “We think this connection fee increase will backfire. It will make [housing] sales impossible.”
Sales Rep, Mark Sheppard for Ryan homes has had to be reassigned as a result of the slow market at this project. Sheppard spoke mainly to support his colleague, Natelson, but had this to add, “I’m not sure I understand why this needs to be executed at this time. I think most of us would consider this the most absolute worst time and economic environment.”

Developer, Mr. Dzaman reminded the Council that when they came here 3 years ago the connection fees were $3500.00. The company priced their homes based on that price. Since then the company has seen almost a 100% increase to $6000.000. Dzaman argues that the company can’t absorb this type of increase during this economic stall in the housing market. “We are the housing market in this town right now.”

When the resolution came up for vote Councilman David Coombes appealed to the other members of Council to continue the matter till the following week. His reasons ranged from his agreement with testimony regarding the economic impact on the town and housing to the financial burden already brought about by the economic crisis.

Coombes feels that cut-backs and raising fees go hand in hand. “We need to work at this and this council has not done that. No one has called us together to do it… and I find it, in this day and age, almost intolerable that we’re going to raise the tax without having looked as a collective group at where we can cut back!”

The entire council agreed to a motion to continue till January 15th at 6:00 p.m. at which time Council plans to have a work session to fully explore all options for cut-backs and re-evaluate the proposal to raise water and sewer, use and connection fees.

  Linda Farneth

   

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