By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- The town plans to provide water and sewer to the regional jail under a deal leaders accepted Monday.
But the agreement between Front Royal and the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail didn't pass without debate and some opposition.
Town Council voted 4-2 in favor of approving an agreement with the jail for water and sewer service that locks in the rates for the utilities for 60 years.
The facility will pay the town more than $1.3 million to connect the service, then 1.375 times the in-town rates for water and sewer for the first 540,000 gallons of water used or sewage produced. The agreement also includes a clause that calls for the town to accept the rainwater collected and used by the jail for its laundry operations.
Councilman Bret W. Hrbek and Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker voted against approval of the agreement.
An effort by Hrbek and supported by Parker to cut the minimum length of the agreement from 60 years to 20 years failed.
"We have had heartburn from industries out there when locked in for 15 and 12 [years]," Hrbek said.
Hrbek worries that the 60-year agreement may set a precedent, a fear he claims has been shared by the Economic Development Authority.
"I think putting a 60-year time horizon on the contract is slapping the face of the water user in the town of Front Royal," Hrbek said.
In response to a question from Councilman Daryl L. Funk, Town Manager Steven Burke said Front Royal calculated future water rates on the assumption the jail would connect to the local system and thus bring more revenue to that service. Without the jail, the water service can expect to not receive more than $1.3 million. The jail connection would offset the need for the town to impose greater increases in the water rates, Burke said.
Hrbek voted against accepting the agreement, saying the action put the cart before the horse. Town Council needs to approve an ordinance that would allow Front Royal to accept the used rainwater from the jail. However, as Hrbek explained, the agreement approved by council included language about the rainwater acceptance into the town's sewer system - a piece of the puzzle that members can't approve until they hold a hearing and vote on an ordinance.
Town Attorney Douglas W. Napier, in response to a question from Hrbek, said council would violate the terms of the accepted agreement should the members not approve the ordinance.
Hrbek on several occasions said he felt uncomfortable voting on an agreement that included requirements of the town that council had not yet endorsed. The councilman said the town shouldn't accept the jail's rainwater until they can determine the effect on Front Royal's sewer system.
The regional jail authority had sought the town's acceptance of the used rainwater from the facility's laundry operations. When the town declined to accept the rainwater, the authority went in a different direction and, late last year, decided to build an on-site wastewater treatment plant. Later the authority decided to design a water supply system when town officials indicated an original deal called for the jail to connect to sewer and water service. The town did not want to allow the jail to connect only to the water service.
The wastewater plant would release effluent to a dry streambed in McKay Spring, a fact that prompted council to reconsider taking the rainwater as originally requested.
Parker criticized the jail authority over the issue that has spanned two years, and noted that Warren County had agreed early in the process to allow the jail to connect to the town at the rates charged to other out-of-town entities.
"Why can't we just accept their rainwater and they connect at the rates that they agreed to connect at before?" Parker said. "How did we get to the negotiation stage that they need a break?"
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org