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Fairfax Plans Water Rate Hike, F.C. Braces for More Legal Offensives

F.C. Council Huddles In Closed Session to Prepare for Conflict

The Fairfax County Water Authority has announced a public hearing in December on the subject of raising rates for users of its system next spring. The proposed rate hike would increase cost the cost per 1,000 gallons from $2.04 to $2.16, and would be effective for all 1.7 million users of the Fairfax system that covers portions of Prince William County and Alexandria. The hearing is slated for Dec. 15 at the water authority’s offices.

The announcement, posted on the authority’s web site, follows by days the release by the county’s Consumer Protection Commission of a 68-page report alleging that the City of Falls Church’s water rates are unjustifiably high, and calling for the county to, for all intents and purposes, confiscate the F.C. system, which serves 100,000 citizens of the county.

While the county’s water rate is currently lowest in the Washington metropolitan region, Falls Church’s is far from the even the midpoint average. Compared to the average $60.19 that Fairfax users will pay, with the anticipated increase, over a three-month period, Falls Church users pay just over $80 with an increase that will go into effect Oct. 1, while systems serving regional locales like Vienna ($100), Fairfax City ($103), Leesburg ($134) and Manassas Park ($182) charge far more.

But with the latest assault from the county, however, the City of Falls Church is now bracing for more legal battles. The F.C. City Council held a closed session following its regular business meeting Monday to consult with attorneys about water-related litigation matters.

While the Fairfax Circuit Court dismissed claims brought against Falls Church by individual water users in the county, they have been moved over to the Arlington Circuit Court where they have yet to be resolved. And, there is concern that the Fairfax Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) report may lead to more legal offensives by the county against the City.

The CPC report urged the county to pass legislation prohibiting any entity in the county from charging more than the Fairfax Water System does, and establishing that the water needs of any new development in the county be directed to use Fairfax Water.

As reported last week, F.C. Councilman Lawrence Webb took the point on behalf of the City to reply to the CPC report, charging the report with harboring “raw” political motives. “We had hoped that Fairfax County would move away from this litigious, confrontational approach,” he stated.

Meanwhile, before going into their closed session Monday night, members of the F.C. Council prevailed on City Manager Wyatt Shields to present greater clarification to the public on the nature of the $4.1 million surplus emanating from a final review of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget that was presented to the Council at its work session last week.

A flurry of intense comments of the subject broke out just before the Council was to adjourn into its closed session. They included angry allegations by one Council member of “mischievous,” “misleading” and “shorthanded” reporting in some of the media accounts on the subject.

“It is very important” Council member Johannah Barry stated, that the surplus “is not based on any miscalculation, and it is not brand new money we just found.” Shields clarified that the $4.1 million surplus, in a total budget of $64 million, on both its expenditure and revenue sides, falls “within reasonable bands” of forecasting, and involves not excess, but unspent money, adding however that “this is a better place to be than having some of the shortfalls we’ve encountered in recent years.”

Councilman Ira Kaylin chimed in that the surplus was not based on “a series of missed projections.” Of it, $1 million is a carryover from grant money that was not used and $700,000 was from a budget line item set aside for legal expenses that were not used, “but still may be,” he said.

Barry noted that the remainder was from unspent money that merely “kicks expenditure needs down the road,” stressing, “This is not found money.”

While the reports on the announcement of the surplus last week spurred a lot of citizen comment, Mayor Nader Baroukh noted, the other matter foremost on the public’s mind has been storm water management, especially in the wake of the heavy rains from earlier this month which, in one storm, dumped up to eight inches in the City. Citizens complained loudly about two feet of water in their basements and other inconveniences. Baroukh pressed Shields to set up a public forum on the subject, which was tentatively set for October 11 prior to the City Council meeting of that date.

 

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