Fairfax Commission Criticizes City’s Water Rates
By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff
September 21, 2011
The Fairfax County Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) has issued a report that is highly critical of Falls Church City’s water rate structure. The report calls on the County to fix rates and charges for water service so that no Fairfax customer of the City’s system will be charged rates and charges that exceed those of Fairfax Water, unless the City demonstrates the need for higher rates and charges to the County’s satisfaction.
The report also recommends that the County establish Fairfax Water as the exclusive water service provider for all new development and redevelopment in Fairfax County. It cites Section 15.2-2111 of the Virginia Code as the authority in both cases.
City Councilman Lawrence Webb, a member of the Falls Church Public Utilities Commission, said the report appears to be a political document.
“That’s disappointing,” said Webb. “Where is the Commission’s research into water rates of other water systems in Fairfax County, all of which have raised water rates in recent years? Where is the Commission’s research into Fairfax County’s own sewer rates, which have gone up 80% since 2005, a rate of growth ten times higher than City of Falls Church’s water rates?”
Webb added that the report raises questions about the Commission’s independence.
“Certain Fairfax County Board members have been very outspoken that they want to take over the City’s Water Utility,” he said. “A professional and objective consumer commission should not be involved in raw politics. We had hoped that Fairfax County would move away from this litigious, confrontational approach after its water refund cases were summarily dismissed in Fairfax County Circuit Court last month.”
On April 25 the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorized the CPC to undertake a comprehensive review of the City’s water rate making practices. The measure was introduced via a motion by Supervisor Linda Smyth (Providence). The motion was approved by voice vote.
Smyth asked the Commission to determine the basis for Falls Church’s rates; whether it was in compliance with the rate making principles established by the Board in May 2010; the nature, location, and cost of any capital improvements made over the past five years and how those improvements were funded;, and the location and cost of projected improvements.
The Board’s action followed the City Council’s initial discussion of a rate increase, which was unanimously approved on September 12. The 8% increase, which will take effect on October 1, will add from $2.00 to $7.00 to the average customer’s quarterly bill, based on usage. Over 90% of the system’s customers reside in Fairfax County.
The complete CPC report is available here.
By George Bromley
September 21, 2011