vanessa-newVanessa Remmers covers Stafford County government and schools for and The Free Lance-Star.

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Study on utilities rates to begin soon

Utilities rates could go up again next year in Stafford County to account for deferred infrastructure costs and planned growth.

Stafford’s Utilities Department is taking a look at its rates in preparation for next year’s budget season. The county received seven proposals in response to an RFP that was due Thursday.

“We want an outside agency to come in and look at our upcoming, current and near-term expenditures,” said Harry Critzer, utilities director. “Obviously we want to keep those [rates] as low as possible but also need enough revenue” to keep the county utilities running.

In July, county residents saw an 8 percent increase on their bills. That came after increases for several years: 7 percent in fiscal 2012, 3 percent in fiscal 2011, and 9 percent each year from 2006 to 2008. Before that, water rates had remained the same since 1996 and sewer rates since 1994.

Critzer said studies like the one that’s set to start typically happen every five years or so in the industry. Because the pipes are out of sight, upgrades and maintenance are also often out of residents’ minds. Right now, the county has many deferred infrastructure rehabilitation costs that need to be caught up on, Critzer said. Population projections also show the county growing, so larger pipes are needed as well.

In the next few weeks, the county will make a decision on who will do the study. The contract would run Oct. 1 – Dec. 1. “We want to have it ready for when we do next year’s budget,” Critzer said.

Major changes are in the works for the county’s water supply, as well. Once Rocky Pen Run Reservoir goes online in 2014 (it’s under construction now in southern Stafford), the Abel Lake water treatment plant will close for a few years.