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City to revisit consolidation of utilities

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By J.R. Williams -- jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- City Council members are slated to discuss the merits of consolidating city and Frederick County utility services at a work session tonight, several years after a committee studied the issue.

According to a memo prepared for the meeting, the chairman of the Frederick-Winchester Service Authority inquired whether previous consolidation discussions were still ongoing.

Councilman Art Major, a city representative on the authority, agreed to bring the topic to his colleagues on the City Council, it says.

The panel would be revisiting the issue: A committee generated a report on "a regional approach" to water and sewer consolidation in 2007 as part of a broader Winchester-Frederick County unification debate that began in 2005.

After six meetings, the report says, the committee of city and county leaders found that consolidating was "absolutely doable." They consulted with officials from Roanoke, which operates joint water and sewer systems with surrounding Roanoke County.

"Early on, in fact at the first meeting, the Committee unanimously agreed that a consolidated system operating as a regional water and sewer service authority was the appropriate structure," it says. "An authority would be in a better position to address the water and sewer needs of the region rather than what's best for one municipality or another."

The committee found that a consolidated, coordinated work force, combined water sources and the leverage of a larger customer base would "better serve our region with enhanced efficiencies of operation."

But they also said that local government commitment would be an issue, as well as a "concern of each jurisdiction paying for the other's needs."

Discussion on the larger unification study -- which also included reports from committees that studied fire and rescue, schools and social services, faded from the public eye in 2009.

The Frederick County Board of Supervisors voted in February of that year to not move forward with plans for total consolidation, but to explore consolidation of selected services.

Tonight's work session starts at 6 p.m. at Rouss City Hall.

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Frederick county is desperate. Special interests in Frederick County are attempting to grab Winchester's water rights for use by developers. Without additional water supplies, Frederick County will be forced to stop all development within 10 years or less. Winchester's water rights to the North Fork of the Shenandoah River is the only thing of value to those special interests and developers because Frederick County does not have water rights to any river. Frederick has made repeated attempts to make water deals with Clarke and Warren Counties. All the other posturing and reasoning put forward by political big wigs are mere gingerbread window dressing attempting to justify utility consolidation in the eyes of voters as a good thing for government efficiency. While there is a kernel of truth to the "enhanced efficiencies of operation" angle, the real meat of the issue is grabbing water to further good old boy and developer interests. Winchester looses its future when it surrenders its water rights. When Frederick runs out of water sources, as it soon will, the Winchester Town Council will have the power to control all development and the city's future without interference from the Board of Supervisors exerting control of water resources.

What started out in 2005 as exploration of consolidating all city and county government into one body has decayed into the real reason consolidation was put on the table; water.

"The Frederick County Board of Supervisors voted in February of that year [2009] to not move forward with plans for total consolidation, but to explore consolidation of selected services."

Frederick County desperately wants water sources to further the needs of special interests and a few good old boys. Without new sources of water to continue fueling explosive development, it stops.

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