The budget season continues as the Washington Town council entertained the idea of raising the town’s water user charge as part of its 2013-14 budget at its monthly meeting Monday night (March 12).
That charge, as Mayor John Sullivan and other council members pointed out, has remained steady for a number of years; the last rate increase was in 2006. “We originally had a five-year study done that outlined the rate increases,” said treasurer Jerry Goebel. “We did it the first year and then we just never did it again.”
Sullivan said that the current monthly user charge simply doesn’t cover the basic operating costs of the pump house, which supplies the town of Washington with its water.
That problem is compounded when the pump house requires extensive repairs, as it recently did after a pipe burst in February. That two-foot section of pipe – which “burst apart . . . and flew past [plant manager] Troy Jenkins Jr.’s head,” said Laura Dodd – also damaged several nearby fittings and valves, necessitating the pump briefly be shut down.
Fortunately, the town has a 250,000-gallon reservoir for such emergencies; Washington and its residents were, said Dodd, “never without water.”
Unfortunately, the repairs, which officials hope will also help determine what caused the pipe to burst, will cost $25,000 and only add to the pump house’s operating costs.
Sullivan said the council didn’t know yet how much the increase would be; he said the council would need to look at surrounding towns and compare rates before deciding on a final figure. “I don’t know exactly what other towns charge,” Sullivan said, “but I’d wager we’re a whole lot cheaper.”
Goebel suggested another five-year study be done by WW Associates, a Charlottesville engineering, survey and planning company, to give the council an accurate look at what water usage charges should be.
Sullivan also added that while the increase might seem substantial when viewed as a percentage, the actual dollar amount increase is likely to be very minimal.
The price increase would most affect the town’s three biggest water consumers – the Inn at Little Washington, Rappahannock County’s government offices and the town’s B&Bs.
Though the council won’t vote on a revised budget until its June meeting, the process is set to begin in earnest at the first budget work session April 5 at 9 a.m. There will also be a public hearing on the matter before the May meeting.
The council also considered a request by community-action firm People Inc. – which had originally sought a special-use permit to turn the Old Washington School building into nine new low- to medium-income apartments – to split the cost of the marketing study conducted by People Inc. to determine the need for that sort of housing in Rappahannock County.
The survey cost $2,000; when it was conducted, People Inc. had requested that the town pay half the bill if the special-use permit was not granted.
The council ultimately asked vice-mayor Gary Schwartz, who was leading that portion of the meeting after Sullivan recused himself due to a conflict of interest, to draft a letter to People Inc. declining to pay the $1,000. No council member could remember formally agreeing to pay half the cost of the study. Goebel added that he thought the market study was “normal behavior” that People Inc. did before any sort of project.
The council voted unanimously (absent member Dan Spethmann) to formally declare May 11 “Food Pantry Day” and donate $1,500 to the Pantry – the same amount the council voted to donate last year.
The Food Pantry services 700 to 1,000 families in Rappahannock County, and while the county doesn’t contribute directly to the Pantry, as Sullivan pointed out, there are multiple community efforts that do contribute.
“I think it’d be nice for the town to take a leadership position on this,” Sullivan said. “It’s a wonderful organization . . . [Food Pantry Day] is an effort to focus the county on the Pantry and its needs.”