WATER WAR: Fairfax Board Approves Exclusive Service Area, Maximum Allowable Rates, Fees, & Charges

Falls Church Times Staff

December 6, 2011

Late this afternoon the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance which amends the County Code to require that developers hook up with Fairfax Water’s system, even in cases where new lines must be built to reach sites having access to existing Falls Church City, Vienna Town, or Fairfax City lines.  This exclusive service area would apply to both new development and redevelopment.

The measure also allows the Board to fix rates and charges for water service provided to customers located in Fairfax County so that no County customer of the City of Falls Church water system will be charged rates and charges that exceed those of Fairfax Water, unless the City can demonstrate the need for higher rates and charges to the County’s satisfaction.

Falls Church repeatedly asked Fairfax County to defer a vote on the ordinance, most recently via a December 1 letter from City Manager Wyatt Shields to County Executive Anthony Griffin.  Local leaders were quick to criticize the Board’s action.

Mayor Nader Baroukh said the City had sought a deferral to allow time to respond to its serious concerns and create a mutually beneficial outcome that ensures the safety and reliability of the City water system and reflects the value of that system.  “Instead, the Board chose to rush to enact an ordinance that is anti-competitive and not in the best interests of our County water customers” said the mayor.

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder also voiced dismay. “Over the years, the City has taken on significant risk so that Seven Corners, McLean, Merrifield, and Tysons Corner—the economic engine of the County—could develop. Today’s action by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is a blow for regional cooperation” Snyder said.

Councilman Lawrence Webb, a member of the City’s Public Utilities Commission also was critical.  “It is unfortunate that the County Board rushed to enact this ordinance.  The effect of the new regulations will be to increase water costs for County residents, create an expensive new County bureaucracy,  [and] invite litigation” he said.  “[The action] will force County developers to construct new water mains that overlap the existing system in order to hook-up to Fairfax Water, an enormous unnecessary cost that could stop Tysons and Merrifield redevelopment effort in its tracks.”

Although the vote was unanimous, Supervisors Pat Herrity (Springfield) and John Cook (Braddock) expressed some reservations.  Herrity observed that he didn’t see how dual infrastructure would save anyone any money and said he didn’t think this was how the County should be doing business with its partners.  Cook warned of possible unintended consequences and referenced Senator Petersen’s recent suggestion that he would introduce legislation in the General Assembly to override the Board’s vote.

Representatives of several Fairfax neighborhood associations, who spoke against the City’s rate increase at Council sessions last summer, spoke today in favor of the ordinance.  All reiterated their view that County residents serviced by the City’s water system are subjected to an unconstitutional tax due to their having no means of voting in Falls Church elections.

About 92% of the Falls Church’s customers reside in the County.  However, the City does not impose a rate differential between its City and County customers.  Its water rates are lower than average for water utilities in the region, and in the lowest quartile statewide.

Over the past five years the City invested $20 million in upgrades in the Tysons, Merrifield, and Dunn Loring areas, keeping water rates flat until an 8% increase in 2011.  Fairfax Water has increased water rates by 33% since 2005.  The County has raised sewer rates 80% since then.

Background on the Board’s actioin is available here at Page 611.

December 6, 2011 


7 Responses to “WATER WAR: Fairfax Board Approves Exclusive Service Area, Maximum Allowable Rates, Fees, & Charges”

  1. Dave Hagigh on December 7th, 2011 7:48 am

    You have to think the Tysons’ developers are on board with this. If not, then they would be expected to balk. I doubt most County residents know what’s going on here. It should make for interesting theater.

  2. david wood on December 7th, 2011 8:36 am

    I’m A Fairfax County resident that has City water. When I compared the water rates I pay to the City and what others that have Fairfax water pay…well the City IS NOT a higher rate, in fact it is lower. I’m not in favor of payng a higher rate to Fairfax County nor do I want them increasing my rate.

  3. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church (703) 209-2005 on December 7th, 2011 11:50 am

    For we citizens who aren’t privy to all the confidential deliberations on the Water War, the lack of clarity on the basic facts seems considerable, and is exasperating.

    Are the Tyson’s developers OK with this action by the Fairfax County board? Over in the FCNP there’s this graf: “A spokesman for the Lerner Group, developers of the Tysons 2 Center in Tysons Corner, with plans for massive new growth in the area, strongly protested the measure, saying it could cause “substantial economic harm” to its interests because it acted on 1985 agreement to build 12 inch water mains that hooked into the Falls Church water system, and any new growth now would require altogether new construction to hook up with the county’s system.”

    And in this FCT article, we have residents of “several Fairfax neighborhood associations [speaking] in favor of the ordinance” and complaining that they are “subjected to an unconstitutional tax due to their having no means of voting in Falls Church elections.” Yet the FCT states that “the City does not impose a rate differential between its City and County customers. Its water rates are lower than average for water utilities in the region, and in the lowest quartile statewide.” And the David Wood comment says he’s a County resident who pays LESS for his City water than he would for County water.

    State Sen. Petersen’s intervention is also interesting. Have the previous court rulings on the Water War left things such a muddled mess that what we really need is for all our local state delegates and senators to put their heads together in Richmond to achieve a region-wide legislative solution? So that all local governments can devote attention to economic redevelopment that will put people back to work, rather than to theatrics like this County Board vote, and to the costly further litigation that it well could provoke.

    If there’s anyone who can comment with some basic facts, please do so. Present them as dispassionately as you can manage, set aside polemics and old jurisdictional grudges, and let’s see if we can help our state legislators move toward a reasonable resolution of this issue. Local-government officials are, perhaps understandably, locked into their public positions, and the courts have so far delivered rulings that seem to lack the persuasive power to resolve the dispute.

  4. Susanna Schnably, Falls Church on December 8th, 2011 1:09 pm

    I know this is going to be a very dumb question, but-HOW do you compare the water rates for the various jurisdictions? Apparently there’s more to it than just the rate per 1000 gal. on the monthly bill. Could someone show what goes into a thorough comparison, please? Thanks!

  5. Mike Smith on December 15th, 2011 10:57 am

    It’s not about rates or doing what is best for the people of Fairfax County, it is about bullying and control. No one should be surprised, given their behavior in the past, that the Fairfax Board of Supervisors should act in such an arrogant and high-handed manner towards their neighborrs.

  6. Mike Smith, Falls Church on December 19th, 2011 4:53 pm

    Fairfax Water has an ad in today’s Post about a public hearing they are having on exclusivity. I would urge anyone mobile to go and speak against this power grab!

  7. Gail R Opitz on January 30th, 2012 8:07 am

    Over $202 this billing cycle!!! Two people, no leaks, nothing unusual with daily consumption. Interested in knowing others’ bills. BTW, anyone notice the blurb on last bill…that we’re also paying for electric? Seems like more outsourcing the city is doing, the more we’re paying for services and, of course, tax increases.

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