Prescribed logic: Water/sewer rates set for 11-12% hike
Declining useage means that local water bills are getting a double-digit increase, as the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority's five-member board voted unanimously Monday, February 23 for wholesale water/sewer rates to climb nearly 11 percent in the city and 12 percent in the county–- nearly double last year's increase.
"Rates must increase due mainly to lower flows," says the Authority's budget. "Although logic would seem to prescribe that lower flows would mean lower rates, the opposite is true when there are large fixed costs."
In other large fixed costs news, the Authority board voted unanimously to spend up to $264,000 to fund a three-member panel of engineers as part of the Authority's effort to build a dam in the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. Critics, such as former Charlottesville City Councilor Kevin Lynch and massage therapist Betty Mooney, have asked the Authority to hold off on any dam building until first dredging the existing Rivanna Reservoir.
"It's ridiculous," Mooney said following Monday's meeting. "It's wasting the public's money."
The Authority's rate vote didn't finalize the rates, but it does indicate that these will be the rates discussed May 18 at the public hearing before this same body.
While the Authority expects to sell 3.5 percent less water during fiscal 2010, both Authority director Tom Frederick and board member Gary O'Connell deny that local conservation measures should get credit for the downward trend in usage. Last year, pointing to about a decade of lower community water use, Lynch exclaimed, “How many years of conservation do we need to see before we can call that a trend?”
"It's not a year-to-year comparison," O'Connell said Monday, claiming that falling water use actually stems from several recent droughts, some of which included restrictions.
"You can make the data say whatever you want it to say," added Frederick.
The Authority plans to charge an average water/sewer wholesale rate of $2.63 per 1,000 gallons in the city (a 10.5 percent increase) and $3.20 per 1,000 gallons in the county (a 12 percent increase). What the two water distribution entities–- each of which is plagued by leaks that lose 10-17 percent of all treated water–- will charge their customers has not yet been revealed.
Last year, for instance, a six percent wholesale hike was passed on without any major add-ons to city customers (other than new customers seeing connection fees shoot from $1,600 to $6,010 per house). However, last year's six percent wholesale price hike morphed into a 20 percent spike when the Albemarle County Service Authority, the entity that actually delivers water to county homes, set its rates.
Faced with several ongoing construction costs and with connection fees plummeting due to the recessionary economy, county customers might want to brace for another round of water shocks.
In other actions, the board on Monday received a pair of at-odds dredging reports.
–last updated 11:51am, Tuesday, February 24
Worksheet - an online extra!
FY 2008 2009 2010
City $2.23 $2.38 $2.63
Co. $2.69 $2.85 $3.20
–cost per 1,000 gallons