Fairfax Commission Criticizes City’s Water Rates

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.

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By George Bromley
September 21, 2011 

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5 Responses to “Fairfax Commission Criticizes City’s Water Rates”

  1. Dave Phelps, Falls Church City on September 22nd, 2011 9:01 am

    Just say yes to joining the Fairfax county water system. FC City water rates are 60% higher than the county. Seems a no-brainer to me.

    Lets hold a referendum on the issue. Paying 60% more for water than our neighbors is just plain stupid. This is coming from a FC City resident, not a justifiably disgruntled Fairfax County resident paying these stupid rates. And, of course, now they want another 8%. Nonsense.

  2. Robert Thomas, Falls Church on September 22nd, 2011 5:30 pm

    Joining Fairfax water doesn’t reduce the rates by 60% since all of the costs remain the same. Have you been paying attention?

    For me, Councilman Webb’s well chosen remarks show real leadership on this issue. I’d like to see more of this leadership from our Councilpersons.

  3. Tom McCready on September 22nd, 2011 8:13 pm

    Robert Thomas,

    Yes, I’ve been paying attention. Some of the City’s costs for water went straight into the City’s coffers. Highway robbery. Declared so in a court of law. Have you been asleep?

    Tom M

  4. Karen Hoofnagle – Falls Church City on September 23rd, 2011 10:15 am

    Dave, why exactly do you think that acquisition would get Falls Church city customers the same rates as Fairfax County? If I understand the system, they can’t change the sourcing of our water and that’s our major cost problem.

    It’s *possible* that they could acquire us on terms that would spread the costs of our system across the entire county and lower what we’re charged — because the costs of our system would be averaged into everyone else’s bills too.

    But it’s just as possible — and from a business perspective far more likely — that they’d acquire the system and NOT fold it into the greater Fairfax County structure for accounting purposes and our rates would stay just the same. We have no control either way of which thing they’d do. None.

    As of today, all money charged by the Falls Church Water authority *stays* with the authority. Rates didn’t go up this time because the City is taking something from one set of people to give it to another. Rates went up because the structure that Falls Church City owns has to have maintenance and the sourcing of our water is more costly.

    I wish something would lower any of my utility bills by 60% but I don’t see it as likely no matter who owns the water supply.

  5. TFC on September 23rd, 2011 11:47 am

    I agree Karen. My understanding is the rates went up b/c the requirement that the system be self sufficient. It needs to pay for itself and “profits” go back into the system…even if they sit in a fund until expenditures are needed for the future. I remember reading, during the “Water Wars” , that FC told the court about other municipalities in Va that rolled utility funds into their general fund. The court decision was clear that it can’t be done. Wonder if there are cases now from the other cities/towns that did the same thing?

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