Following a public hearing last week pretty much ignored by the public, the Rappahannock County Water and Sewer Authority took the latest step in a year-long effort to guarantee its fiscal and functional future, voting to raise wastewater treatment rates for its 200-plus customers in the village of Sperryville by about 20 percent.
About 150 Sperryville residents and 50 businesses pay an average of $85.50 quarterly to connect to the wastewater treatment plant operated by the authority; the average quarterly bill, according to authority board secretary Keir Whitson, will go up to about $102 after the increase, which took effect Monday (July 1).
The authority operates these days without debt — but also with a Sperryville treatment plant born in in 1985 with an estimated 30-year lifespan. Sperryville businessman Ken Thompson took over last year as the authority’s chairman, and has said that the prospect of increased maintenance and/or replacement costs, as the plant’s 30-year anniversary in 2015 neared, inspired him to overhaul the authority’s fees.
Thompson stepped down last month; the board of supervisors this Monday appointed Sperryville gallery owner Andrew Haley to fill his term on the authority board. Before Thompson’s departure, however, the authority had negotiated significant increases in 2013-14 from the Town of Washington, for which it helps maintain a water system, and Rappahannock County Public Schools, for which it tests and maintains both water and septic systems.
Earlier this year, the town approved paying the authority about $25,000 in the fiscal year that started Monday; the school division approved an expense of about $32,000 for the same period. The increase in fees to the town was 60 percent over the previous year’s (or any of the last 10 or so years, during which the fees never went up); the school’s increase was about 40 percent over the earlier annual fee.
The majority of the authority’s revenue — about $105,000 — comes from its 207 business and residential subscribers in Sperryville.
The increases in revenue, Whitson said last week after the authority’s audience-less Thursday night meeting at the courthouse, are part of a long-term maintenance and replacement plan for the Sperryville treatment plant.
Storms last year caused the partial collapse of an equalization tank at the plant; Whitson said the authority was able to repair the steel tank for about $20,000 (versus replacing the tank at a cost of about 10 times that).
“What happened to that tank,” Whitson said, “was just a reminder that we have to accelerate what needs to be done to keep the plant going into the future.”
The plant is operating normally, Whitson said, and the authority has “a great, technically savvy staff to keep it that way.”
Washington Mayor John Sullivan has suggested periodically over the past year that the authority and the town consider joining forces on operating and maintaining the town’s wastewater treatment plant, which is only four years old (a service for which the town pays Culpeper-based ESS about $150,000 a year). “In a place this small, with the economies of scale and all, we should at least be talking about it,” he said this week.
Whitson said the authority “is right now focused on maintenance and operation of our Sperryville plant and getting our own house in order,” but also thought the ideas Sullivan has been circulating should be discussed further.