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Utility rate hike in store for Stafford

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To maintain infrastructure and account for decreasing water use, utilities rates in Stafford County may rise 9 percent over each of the next three years.

For the average household using 5,000 gallons of water per month, that rate change equates to about $4.79 more on each bill starting in August, with similar increases the two years after.

The Board of Supervisors will consider the proposed increase and the issue of $45 million in bonds at its Tuesday meeting, after a failed 3-3 vote last month when Cord Sterling was absent.

Many utilities projects have been delayed over the past five years because of the economic downturn.

“As you defer, the pile gets higher and higher, and it’s hard to ever get that down,” Utilities Director Harry Critzer said in a recent interview.

Forty-one projects are planned for the next 10 years, with 20 identified as critical. Those could be covered with $45 million in bonds to be issued in the next three fiscal years.

Wear and tear on pumps and pipes continues no matter the county’s financial state, staff noted.

If something fails, it’s much more expensive to repair on an emergency basis. Last year, 10 feet of the Claiborne Run Gravity Sewer Interceptor, which sees 3 to 4 million gallons of sewage pass through daily, washed out during a hurricane and tropical storm, and further deterioration was noted.

“This needs to be addressed in the very near future to avoid future failures, sewage spillages and potential fines,” a staff report stated. The total replacement cost in fiscal 2015 is expected to be $2.1 million.

Stafford’s not alone with these problems. Neglected infrastructure and rising rates are a national trend, utilities department financial analyst Deidre Jett noted.

The proposed work is also related to economic development.

“When the county wants to do something, we don’t want utilities to be the reason they can’t do what they want to do,” Critzer said.

Having appropriate infrastructure in place ahead of time allows for those projects, he said. For example, if a data center were to be constructed in the county, it would require large amounts of water for cooling equipment.

Other projects are related to the massive Rocky Pen Run Reservoir project, which is underway and expected to come online in the next year.

A consulting firm began to look at the county’s water and sewer rates and services last July and recommended the new rates. Such studies are typically done every three to five years.

Stafford had previously expected about a 4 percent increase in its water sales, Critzer said. But since 2008, sales have dropped about 9 percent.

Across the country, water usage is down, the utilities staff said, because of conservation efforts and newer appliances that use less water.

But utilities is a “capital-intensive” industry, Jett explained, and the cost of electricity and chemicals for water treatment is continually increasing.

Customers who use a low volume of water, below 2,000 gallons per month, may not see increases under the proposal. That rate for low-volume water users has been kept artificially low to minimize the impact to those on fixed incomes.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975

kthisdell@freelancestar.com 

STAFFORD UTILITY RATES

The average residential customer uses 5,000 gallons of water per month. The current monthly bill for both water and wastewater is approximately $48.35.

If the proposed increases are approved, bills could go up by:

  • $4.79 in August
  • $4.60 in 2014-15
  • $5.19 in 2015-16

The average non-residential customer with a 2-inch meter uses 40,000 gallons of water per month. The approximate current monthly bill for water and wastewater is $393.79.

If the proposed increases are approved, bills could go up by:

  • $48.29 in August
  • $40.58 in 2014-15
  • $44.86 in 2015-16

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