Increase would be town's fifth in past six years
By Kaitlin Mayhew -- email@example.com
STRASBURG -- The Town Council is debating whether to increase water and sewer fees in 2013.
If fees would go up, it would mark the fifth such raise in six years.
Strasburg currently has the fourth highest access fees for both water and sewer service in the state. The access or connection fee is paid to connect water or wastewater service to a building when a new home or business is built.
Fairfax and Clarke counties as well as the Town of Hamilton in Loudoun County are the only localities in the state with higher water connection fees.
As for wastewater access fees, Clarke County, and the towns of Hamilton and Lovettsville are ahead of Strasburg.
Strasburg is also on the high end for user fees on a regional scale, boasting higher water fees than most towns in the area.
Town Manager Judson Rex said that the reason for that is the water treatment facility upgrade.
"We are one of the only localities that's upgraded our facility recently," he said.
The same goes for the sewer usage fees in Woodstock, which are by far the highest. They have just updated their wastewater treatment plant.
Besides the plant upgrades, Rex said that changes in access and user fees reflect a delicate balance dependent on revenue.
The two fees represent the only two sources of revenue to go toward maintenance and necessary updates to the facilities.
"The more users you have, the bigger your base of customers is. So, the more users you have, the more you can lower the rates," said Rex.
The problem is that Strasburg has not, in recent years, had enough users to justify anything but raising the rates, particularly since the facility renovations.
The budget presentation at Monday night's work session outlined options, including a 7 percent increase in water fees and 3 percent in sewer fees.
However, most council members expressed concern about raising the rates yet again.
"I think we are a little high. I don't think we can raise this," said Councilman Rich Orndorff.
Councilman Justin Ritenour said he was shocked to find that Strasburg's numbers were so high on a state level.
"Strasburg, Virginia is the third or fourth highest in the state, with our income levels and our poverty levels?" he said. "That makes me sick."
Councilman Scott Terndrup said he understands the frustration that residents have had with the high prices.
"I don't think we are being vindictive people. We are just trying to find this balance," he said. "Maybe we should consider a reduction."
Councilmen Don Le Vine and Rick Redmon discussed the fact that if more people moved to town, it would be easier to reduce the fees.
"This is not an easy choice," Le Vine said. "If we had people living in every house we'd be in good shape. But how do we get from where we are to where we want to be?"
The problem there is that encouraging people to build a new home or business in an area with high access fees can prove more difficult.
"You are punishing them for moving here," said Councilman John "Red" Hall Jr. "God help us. Let's lower these rates, not raise them."
By the end of Monday's meeting, the majority of council agreed that the rates should not be increased. However, the official decision will be voted on at a later town council meeting.