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KG residents speak out on water, sewer increases

Action on proposed rate and fee hikes postponed till July 21

King George County Service Authority (KGCSA) officials responded to complaints that were vented by some customers at a public hearing last week. Many of those commenting at a hearing on a proposed rate and fee increase had complaints about water quality.

Board members were surprised by complaints about the water, since numerous upgrades and improvements have been made to the water systems.

Each of the members of the Service Authority responded in his own way at the meeting on July 7. Highlights of their answers are below. Chris Thomas, general manager for the Service Authority, gave his reaction to the complaints about brown and smelly water made by some King George water customers at a public hearing on a rate increase last week.

 KGCSA GENERAL MANAGER CHRIS THOMAS

“I was surprised by these complaints. However, some of the complaints may have come from the past. As you may know, the Dahlgren system did have a sulfur/hydrogen sulfide issue years ago. KGCSA did a chlorination project that appears to have corrected this. Additionally, KGCSA has installed additional wells in Dahlgren that have allowed some of the offensive wells to be turned off.”

Thomas added, “KGCSA has not received any complaints regarding quality for some time. I believe it has been about a year since I received any complaints. KGCSA is in compliance with all of the Virginia Department of Health water quality standards.”

Regarding the complaints about brown water, Thomas noted, “I had the Water Manager collect a visual sample of the Bayberry water, the Potomac Landing water, and the Oakland Park water systems. These were collected from the customers hose bibs. They were collected last Thursday and show no signs of any discoloration. We will continue to periodically collect similar visual samples through the year.”

Thomas said he would likely bring samples to display them at next week’s Board meeting.

KGCSA CHAIRMAN JOE GRZEIKA

“I would say to all of the homeowner associations, please contact your supervisor, we would love to come to your meeting and spend time with your organizations going over the issues and concerns that you have and to make sure we understand what they are and that the right things are being done. We’ve worked with all of them. I know that the folks up here are available. Nobody’s called me. Nobody has called me to come to the homeowners association in Oakland Park in a number of years. (We) went out there three years ago and discussed the issues that were going on at that time. And we are available to do that. And we would like to be able to do that because it’s a lot easier to address your questions in a forum where there is a dialogue. These meetings don’t lend themselves to that.

Grzeika also said, “To take a snapshot and say ‘there is not enough information,’ we haven’t done our jobs, we haven’t worked, is a little bit myopic in view. The fact is that we have been working hard on this budget since January. We’ve advertised our budget. We’ve had financial analysts come in and do the other alternative analysis to see where we are, (and if) we missed something. So we are doing the things that we believe are necessary to do. The fact of the matter is that costs have risen. We have embarked on a path to make this Service Authority self sufficient.”

Grzeika countered charges that the water is contaminated. “I don’t know if we need to do an educational piece on these annual reports — the reports are a water quality improvement requirement — and how to read them and what they are telling you. But none of our systems are not safe to drink.”

He added, “From a health standpoint, that’s factual and backed up because of the testing that is done on these systems on a regular, continuous basis. The health department would shut us down if we failed to test.”

He also said, “There are things that you can do. Especially if you are in new houses, what we have found, during the construction process, a lot of stuff happens. And you get stuff in your system that may still be there today. There’s a flushing that can be done of the water tanks because the hot water is the predominant violator in a lot of that. So there are things that can be done and we’d be happy to share that with you.”

He talked about a capital improvement plan that would be paid for by the proposed restructuring of the debt service fees resulting in their increase, saying, “We have a capital improvement plan that’s a five-year plan looking out of what needs to be done. Some of these improvements, most of these improvements are based on new regulations and Department of Environmental Quality requirements that we must meet.”

He also said, “We don’t generate the requirements — they are put on us. And that will be more costs over time. The debt for these projects, we are looking at refinancing and restructuring that debt. Some of the information put out tonight is erroneous. Those numbers don’t jive for a year and we don’t do it on a payback in a year, we do it over 20, 30 year payback that we do because that more equitably passes on the cost to all those users, current and future. That’s what we’re doing and we’ve been doing that.”

Grzeika recapped previous rate increases, saying, “The last three years, we’ve had increases and we’ve held them to the consumer price index, inflationary index. And that’s based on the cost of our fuel, chemicals and supplies. All that’s going up. And in two of those years, actually the cost of our labor went up because we did give employees raises at that time. We haven’t given them a raise this year, we’ve cut that.”

He talked about the budgeting process, saying, “Last year we cut a million dollars out of the budget and carried that cut through this year and squeezed out another half a million to get the cost down that we could do. That deliberation took place from January up until 60 days ago. We advertised these rates 60 days prior to this meeting.”

He also said the KGCSA took the added step at the general manager’s request to mail out a notice of the proposed rate increase in addition to the required legal advertisement.

“We wanted you to have that information. We’re happy that you came out and gave us your concerns.”

He added, “The fact of the matter is that costs are up. It’s a terrible time, we agree. The debt service issue is one we have been monitoring and we tried to figure out the best way to do that and you don’t do that overnight. We’ve looked at a couple of different models and this is where we settled.”

He also noted that budget documents are all available for review and Board members and county officials are available for questions at any time.

Later in the meeting, Grzeika added, “I think the real issue is the cost of running a service authority on a small user base — 3,700 customers — and some are only water. You compare that to a Stafford county and it’s an apples and oranges comparison when they have a 100,000 user kind of system. Small systems are very expensive to operate.”

KGCSA BOARD MEMBER JIM HOWARD

Howard thanked residents for coming out to comment.

Since purchasing the water systems, which were bought in 1992, that the KGCSA has been “aggressively pursuing improvements,” Howard said.

 “We’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money on upgrading these systems. I’m disappointed, I’ll be honest with you, and somewhat surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t be.  I’m on the system for water. We drink the water and so does the dog.”

Howard also asked to be invited to meetings of homeowners association.

“I would like to come — I represent King George on the Potomac, Potomac Landing, Fairview Beach. Please invite me, I will be there. I’ll bring whatever information that you think you need to hear that we have. Chris Thomas is a good general manager for this system, and I give him credit for that.”

He added, “I appreciate you being here, I appreciate your comments and concerns. Somebody said, ‘will we listen?’ Yes we will.”

KGCSA BOARD MEMBER CEDELL BROOKS JR.

Brooks noted that he does not have many residential customers in the Shiloh District he represents.

He thanked residents for coming out to comment. “I represent the Shiloh district and we’re very fortunate in Shiloh, most of us have septic systems and wells. My septic system failed a couple years ago and had to pay $8,000 for a new one.”

He also said, “Hearing people say the water is brown, doesn’t make sense.” He added that if it has color, saying, “That’s a problem, if it smells, that’s a problem.”

He also noted the poor economy and said, “It’s hard to come and ask someone to pay more for something they aren’t using.” He added, “I heard what you said and will take it to heart.”

KGCSA BOARD MEMBER JAMES MULLEN

Mullen said he had been getting some calls, adding, “I don’t know anything about the bad quality of water in Dahlgren. Water sure is better in Dahlgren.”

He repeated what other board members had said about improvements having been made to improve the water quality in past years, but noted, “The rate is high.”

He added, “Come and talk to me. Don’t know much about it, but I can tell you a little bit.”

He also praised his fellow board members saying they work real hard and adding, “All my colleagues here- everybody up here -has King George at heart and we don’t want to do anything to cause any discontent.”

 

 

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