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April 20, 2012

Albemarle plans for water, sewer rate increases

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, April 20, 2012

The Albemarle County Service Authority’s board of directors had its first look Thursday at a proposed $28.2 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
 
“We’re seeing increases of less than 4 percent to our water and sewer rates, and that’s after two years of no increases,” said Lisa Breeden, the ACSA’s director of finance.
 
Breeden said the average single-family home’s bill will increase by 3.33 percent.
 
The biggest reason for the increase is an increase in wholesale rates charged by the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority, which sells treated water and sewer service to the ACSA and the city of Charlottesville.
 
In the current year, the RWSA charges the ACSA a wholesale rate of $3.39 per 1,000 gallons. That will increase to $3.46 per 1,000 gallons in fiscal year 2013.
 
For sewer, the RWSA charges the ACSA $3.35 per 1,000 gallons, an amount that will increase to $3.73 per 1,000 gallons.
 
ACSA staff decided to spend some of its reserves to lower the rate increase for its customers.
 
“[The RWSA’s] capital improvement budget is huge and we’ve had to try to level out that increase to our customers,” Breeden said.
All ACSA residential customers pay a monthly service charge based on the size of their connection, and are billed for usage according to a tiered pricing structure. The rate is increasing at 4 percent for all four levels.
 
In order to encourage conservation, residents who use fewer than 3,000 gallons a month will pay an amount that, for the first time, will be below the wholesale rate.
 
Sewer rates will increase 4 percent to $7.49 per 1,000 gallons.
 
Fees paid by developers to connect new homes and businesses to the ACSA system also will increase. The ACSA’s internal water system development fee will increase by 2 percent to $1,802 per connection. The sewer system development fee will increase by 1 percent to $2,436.
 
However, the ACSA also will pass along a sharp increase in fees it pays to the RWSA for new infrastructure.
 
The RWSA “capacity fee” for water will increase 21 percent to $4,758 per connection. For sewer, the capacity fee will climb 17 percent to $3,506 per connection.
 
Breeden projects the fees will bring in $4 million of revenue over the next fiscal year.
 
Jim Colbaugh, a former member of the ACSA board, questioned the rate increases during the public comment period.
 
“I thought this board had always said even though we’re building [a new] dam, we wouldn’t raise the water rates because we had enough money to go around,” Colbaugh said.
 
“The increase is not attributable to the dam,” Breeden said. “We’ve been planning for that and we have applied a significant amount of our reserves to this year’s budget.”
 
The board also heard details of the ACSA’s $5.5 million capital improvement budget for fiscal year 2013. Projects include $320,000 for improvements to serve the Ashcroft neighborhood; $600,000 to replace a water main in Crozet; and nearly $400,000 to extend sewer service on Hardware Street in Scottsville.
 
One of the projects scheduled for implementation in the next year is a computer network called SCADA that will help ACSA staff to monitor conditions at pump stations and storage tanks. The project originally was expected to cost $400,000 but has increased to $720,000.
 
“It was quite a sticker shock,” said Pete Gorham, the ACSA’s director of engineering. He said the system will help the ACSA become more efficient and safer during emergencies.
 
“We’ll know problems in our pump stations as they’re happening instead of going out there to try and find out what’s going on,” Gorham said. "[It] will assist us in targeting where our water loss is.”
The ACSA board will hold workshops to delve further into the details of the proposed budget on May 3 and May 17, followed by a public hearing on June 21.
 
After the regular meeting, the ACSA board met in closed session to discuss a cost-share allocation agreement for the Rivanna Pump Station, a lawsuit to stop construction of the Ragged Mountain Dam, as well as a performance evaluation for Gary O’Connell, the ACSA’s executive director.

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