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CB Hearing on water and sewer rates scheduled

On November 26, 2008 Draft 1 of the Recommendation on Water/Sewer Rates for the Town of Colonial Beach was released to the Colonial Beach Town Council for their perusal and suggestions.  The draft proposal is the creation of a study group comprised of Council Members Karen Payne and Sparky Ridgely, Acting Town Manager Val Foulds, Chief Financial Officer Joan Grant and Director of Public Works Rob Murphy.  
The group was formed at the request of Mayor Rummage to examine the many issues surrounding a potential increase in residential water/sewer fees and to hopefully find a way to work out a gentler and more community friendly increase than the original proposal of 41%.    The group was also charged with looking into and resolving the issues surrounding non-working, absent or unread meters at local businesses as the town had a substantial amount in delinquent business accounts as well as discrepancies in who was being read and who was not.
The draft recommendation looks at five areas that impact fees:  Wastewater Treatment Plant Improvements, Water System/Infiltration/Water Line Replacement, Capital Improvement Fund, Increased Costs and Reduced Revenue on Connection Fees.  According to the draft document, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is funding the improvements to the Wastewater Treatment Plant “through a $6,086,322.00 grant and a $2,671,606.00 loan with a 20 year amortization at 0% interest.”  The town will not have to make a payment until January of 2010 which should equal $66,790.00.  There will be two installments due each year for a combined total of $133,580.00.
With regard to the Water System/Infiltration/Water Line Replacements or Water System and I&I Improvements, the document recounts how Long & Associates Environmental Services Inc. did a 2008 study in the town that estimated 133 million gallons of rain and/or groundwater is being processed by the town each year.  “This is costing the Town approximately $438,000.00 per year in unnecessary influent being processed”.  The report calls for the replacement of the Town's water infrastructure to the tune of an estimated cost of $4,229,190.00.  The annual payments for this aspect of the Town's water/sewer needs is indicated to be $100,000.
With regard to Capital Improvements, the document states “the Town must develop a Capital Improvement funding plan which carries over each year.”  The purpose of this fund will be to cover the cost of rehabilitation and infrastructure needs.  These funds will be kept separate from the General Fund accounts and are estimated to be $100,000 annually.
Increased Costs is the portion of the draft plan that addresses that fact that water/sewer rates “have not been increased in 14 years and have not kept pace with inflation and increased regulatory costs.  Inflation has risen 37.2% since the last user fee rate increase, and 9.17% since the last connection fee increase”, the document states.  To actually keep pace with inflation, the draft proposal states that residential user fees should be raised to $822 from the current $600 per year, but before everyone goes nuts – read on.  
Reduced Revenue on Connection Fees touches upon the fact that with the “poor economy and reduction in new construction” that the projected amount expected from connection fees has fallen short of the mark.  The current budget estimated 80 connections at $6,000 per connection for a total projected revenue of $480,000.00, but in actuality the real number of connections is more along the lines of 60, a difference of 20 connections, which provides revenue equal to $360,000 creating a deficit of $120,000 in expected revenue.  Taking all of those facets of water/sewer into consideration adds up to a “minimum estimated revenue increase” of $597,580.00 annually.
The recommendation that is put forth in the proposal after examining all of the above information, which is based on 2400 residential connections, does not place the whole burden for this $597,580 on the shoulders of the tax payers.  In fact, it does not even call for a rate increase that equates to the inflation that has taken place ($822 from the current $600).  Rather, the suggestion is for the Town to implement a 20% increase which takes the new yearly total for water/sewer for residential accounts from $600 to $720.  In more precise terms that breaks down to the annual residential water bill increasing from $141 to $169; sewer bills go up from $459 to $550 per year.  This change, is expected to bring about an increase in revenue of $288,000.00.
Another part of the proposal deals with a suggested increase in connection fees.  Currently the Town charges $2,000 for a water connection.  It is suggested in the proposal that the Town change the current fees to $3,200 through June 30, 3009 and then initiate another increase to $4,500.  With respect to sewer connections, the current fee is $4,000.  Again, the proposal suggests an increase now to $6,400 to remain in effect through June 30, 2009 followed by another increase as of July 1, 2009 to $7,500.  These increases would, in effect, double the current total combined water/sewer connection fees of $6,000 and take them to $12,000.  It is expected that this change would provide additional revenue equal to $360,000 for the fiscal year 09-10.  Council Member Karen Payne says that this $12,000 fee is “in-line and on the low side of what other localities are charging.”
Now how about those commercial users?  Well, they have not been forgotten; they too are included in the proposal and a 20% rate increase is suggested for them as well; all 92 accounts.  This increase would affect all commercial users whether they are billed at a standard rate because of low usage or receive a bill with a per gallon charge.  It is expected that a 20% increase for the commercial accounts would provide added revenue in the amount of $11,040.00.
As for the delinquent commercial accounts, missing, broken or unread meter problems, Payne says, “Public works has replaced all the missing and not working business meters.”  Payne also assured the community that, “All meters for businesses are being read now” and that due to “better coordination between public works and the treasurer's office” meter readings would no longer fall through the cracks.  
The Town's Chief Financial Officer Joan Grant concurs with Payne that “to the best of her knowledge all the meters are installed”.  Grant says that there is a new revised up-to-date list; “a complete list of all businesses”.  “The expectation”, she continued, “is to get a meter reading and if we don't get that to ask where it is and send someone to go get it”.  Grant did want to point out that some businesses do get charged a flat rate because of low usage.  “The meter”, she said, “only kicks in when they go over the allotted amount”.  Grant confirmed that even if a business ends up being charged a flat rate for a few consecutive months, that the meter is still read; the assumption is not made that since they haven't gone over they never will.  Director of Public Works, Rob Murphy, confirms that the meters have been replaced, but cautioned that it is an ongoing project.  “As a result of this last reading” said Murphy, “one, two, three work orders have been generated to double check the meters.”  Murphy also confirmed that the Town has picked up the cost of replacing, repairing and installing any missing meters.  Public works expects to work on the 3/4” meters regularly and includes keeping a surplus of them on hand in their budget, but this year, two 2” meters had to be replaced, which was not expected, and each of those cost $800.  Murphy said, “It hurt a little, but we'll be alright”.
The Public Hearing on the new Water/Sewer Rates is scheduled for January 8, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.
Anne Congdon

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