Letters to the Editor: April 16 – 22, 2009

April 16, 2009 3:46 PM0 comments

Fairfax Water Disputes Account of F.C. Shields

Editor,

Last week’s interview with the City Manager of Falls Church regarding current litigation with Fairfax Water left out a number of important facts your readers may be interested to know.

1) In February 2007, the City of Falls Church sued Fairfax Water in federal court to try to block it from offering public water service to new development in portions of Fairfax County. The City claimed this part of Fairfax County as an “exclusive” service territory under a 1959 agreement. That agreement expired in 1989, however, and was not renewed. The Federal District Court threw out the lawsuit in May 2007, ruling that Virginia law gives Fairfax Water the legal right to offer water service anywhere it can in Fairfax County. The City appealed, and the Court of Appeals also rejected the City’s claims in April 2008. We thought that ended the dispute. We were mistaken.

2) After losing its federal lawsuit, the City continued to tell people that it enjoys an “exclusive” service area in Fairfax County, without mentioning that the federal courts rejected that claim. The City has threatened legal action against one Fairfax County developer who planned to switch to Fairfax Water. The City also refused to permit existing City water lines to be relocated, entirely at the developer’s expense, to prevent it from switching. Such relocations are routine, and the City’s position was unprecedented. The developer has protested the City’s actions and threatened to sue the City.

3) Fairfax Water filed the current lawsuit to stop the City from engaging in these unfair trade practices. We are asking the court to require the City to abide by the ruling of the federal court in the case the City filed and lost.

4) On March 13, 2009, the Fairfax County Circuit Court rejected the City’s argument that it can monopolize water service in Fairfax County. The Court also rejected the City’s claim that it is not taxing Fairfax County residents by transferring millions of dollars a year from the water fund to the general fund. The case is now set for trial in September.

5) Mr. Shields’ suggestion that the City has reached out to Fairfax Water to try to settle this dispute is incorrect. When the City sued Fairfax Water in February 2007, it did so without prior notice to us. And when the City lost its federal case but continued to try to block competition, we asked the City to stop. When the City declined, we felt we had no choice but to file the current lawsuit. Even then, we offered to drop all of our claims for money damages and attorneys’ fees if the City would agree to simply stop engaging in practices designed to prevent Fairfax County customers from switching water providers. The City rejected that offer too.

For more information about the lawsuit, please visit our website www.fairfaxwater.org. Copies are posted there of our open letter to customers, some of the key legal filings, and the Court’s recent opinion rejecting all of the City’s legal arguments.

Philip W. Allin

Chairman, Board of Directors

Fairfax Water

Fairfax Users of F.C. Water ‘Being Fleeced’

Editor,

Your biased reporting on the water issue is once again in full view. There are 100,000 Fairfax County households being fleeced by Falls Church City every time they turn on their taps.

Approximately nine in 10 F.C. Water customers live outside of the city and are being forced to subsidize city services from which they derive little or no benefit. Falls Church City citizens have no incentive to limit the profiteering because they can do the math; for every additional dollar they pay, Fairfax county residents pay the city $9. It is an illegal tax. I am paying a tax for which I cannot vote, cannot vote against the people levying the tax, and cannot take any action short of refusing to use water that would limit my tax burden. The profit from the water system augments the general budget of the City, it is not set aside to support the water system. It is a tax plain and simple. We are captive customers, and have no other options. I often, half joking (only half), tell my FC City friends that they are stealing from me every quarter when I pay my water bill.

Fairfax County residents should know that the charter of the Fairfax water system PROHIBITS the water revenue from being used for expenses unrelated to the water system, Apparently Fairfax County understands something about fairness in public utility pricing that Falls Church City has yet to learn.

Wyatt Shields says “Citizens should expect their local governments to work together and resolve differences” I expect my Fairfax County government to fight for it’s citizen consumers, and I expect Falls Church City to stop using my money to fund city services. I support the actions of Fairfax County. I have told my representative and any other County lawmakers that they have my support in this effort. I trust that my elected officials in Fairfax County will use whatever tools are available to pressure Falls Church City to bring some fairness back to water pricing. As an alternative, the City could invite all of it’s water customers to use the full complement of city services.

Vince Forcier

Falls Church

D.C. Resident is Frequent GEORGE Rider

Editor,

Editor,

Although I officially am a resident of the District of Columbia, I spend most of the week with my significant other living in the City of Falls Church. My partner and I are frequent users of the GEORGE transportation. We use it regularly to get to the METRO at East Falls Church station to get to our jobs in Washington, DC.

I was greatly surprised and disappointed to hear that the City of Falls Church is considering unfunding our public transit system. It is hard to believe that the City Government would make such a decision which goes against public policy supporting public transportation, reducing congestion, air pollution, and accommodating the needs of senior citizens who require public transportation to access the Metro.

I realize that GEORGE is not a money maker. But, most city services are not money makers, which is why we pay taxes. As an “unofficial” resident of Falls Church, I pay state and local taxes that help to support George.

I am considering moving officially to GEORGE. Quite frankly, I do not know how I would get to work without this important public transportation system.

I urge that the mayor and her fellow city Councilmembers maintain this vital and essential transportation link.

Lawrence E. Berman Esq.

Washington, D.C.

Wholeheartedly Supports Cutting Of GEORGE

Editor,

I wholeheartedly support the City Manager’s recommendation to defund the city’s GEORGE bus system. Today, it is the greatest expenditure of city funds (and federal subsidies) benefiting the least number of citizens (and some from outside the city – exceeding more than 25% of ridership according to one estimate).

Most of those using GEORGE don’t need financial assistance to get to work. They use it because they believe it is environmentally beneficial. On the contrary, I maintain that the energy used to manufacture and maintain the bus system and the fuel required to operate the buses (which I have personally seen running many of their routes totally empty) far exceeds the energy private cars would use to transport each citizen now using the system. If the commuters to Metro would carpool, the savings would be increased.

I once supported the GEORGE program, seeing it as an incentive to bringing mixed-use commercial development to the long planned City Center project. That effort has not come to fruition. The critical mass of new offices, retail and residential needed to support such a system has not come close to being met. And, with the current economic slump continuing, it does not appear reasonable to expect that a critical mass of new development will occur in the near or midrange future.

Accordingly, I recommend the City Council defund the GEORGE bus system.

Paul Barkley

Falls Church

Mystery Donor Should Cover GEORGE’s Cost

Editor,

Concerning the report a “mystery donor” paid all Monday’s fares on GEORGE: if my math is right, there are about 70,000 trips per year, which is 1,346 per week. That makes 269 trips per day. Each trip is $0.50 so covering the fares for a day comes to about $134.62.

But wait, those transferring to or from Metro and using a SmarTrip card already get their trip for free. Reports say that over 95% of riders make this transfer but other reports suggest that maybe only 50% of those use SmarTrip cards. That reduces the cost of buying everyone’s ticket for a day to about $67.31!

Now, if this mystery donor would cover the cost of the service for a day (something like $2,150) that would be impressive!

Andy Rankin

Via the Internet

(Editor’s note – The report of the “mystery” donor has not been substantiated).

Both Sides Not Present in Church Story

Editor,

Concerning last week’s “Church Defectors Seek to Diver Building Funds to Legal Defense”, you’re not a journalist, you are an op-ed writer. Leave the gumshoe work to your reporters. How nice it would be if both sides of this issue were represented in the article. But that’s not your agenda.

With respect to your screed, I would just offer this bit of advice from our ancient desert nomads, “The dog barks in the night. The caravan moves on.”

Walt Smith

Falls Church

Tax Bill on Car ‘Hard to Swallow’ In Falls Church

Editor,

Falls Church City’s tax collections understandably support the unique-to-the-beltway, village environment we residents take so much pride in; however, the tax bill on our Chevy is hard to swallow.

My husband is an active duty officer in the U.S. Navy. Both his name, as well as mine, appear on the registration of our ’05 Chevy. An F.C. rep offered a glimmer of hope: if the registration is solely in the active duty service member’s name, taxes are not required. So, in December of ’09, we obtained and notorized the proper forms for both Washington’s Department of Licensing (By law, my husband’s active duty status allows the Chevy to remain registered in Washington State where we also pay yearly taxes.) and the bank who holds the Chevy’s title–only to be told by said bank that name removal is not possible unless a transfer of equity form (i.e. refinance) is approved. Thus, F.C.’s glimmer-of-hope-caveat only applies to active duty service members who own their vehicles outright.

Our family is between a rock (F.C.) and a hard place (the big, bad four letter institution–BANK). It is my opinion, the City should immediately rectify this obtuse regulation. Such lack of attention to tax detail can only be interpreted as the City’s failure to support its residents who bravely, invisibly, and tirelessly serve.

Capi Klein

Falls Church

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