Front Royal OKs water, sewer increases

By Alex Bridges

Front Royal residents and business owners can expect to see higher bills for some town services.

Town Council held public hearings Monday on proposed increases to rates for water and sewer service as well as trash pickup.

Council voted 4-3 on first reading of an ordinance to increase water and sewer rates to residents and businesses. Councilmen Daryl L. Funk, Thomas H. Sayre and Hollis L. Tharpe voted against the increases. Councilmen Bret W. Hrbek and Eugene R. Tewalt and Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker voted for them. Mayor Timothy W. Darr cast the tie-breaking vote to approve them.

“As unfortunate as it,” Darr said, “…it’s an account that has to support itself, and with the heavy modifications to the wastewater treatment plant at a price tag of about $40 million and our recent upgrade of $10 million to our water plant and now an additional $2.3 million … It’s not something I’m totally in favor of but we have to pay as we go.”

Under the change, Front Royal will charge $25.03 per month for both water and sewer up to 3,000 gallons. Customers would pay $101.80 per month for both utilities up to 7,000 gallons, according to information from the town.

Car wash operator Ken Colton spoke during the hearing on the water and sewer rate increases. His business operates outside town and he has a contract to receive water and sewer service. Colton warned that the proposed 20 percent increase in the water rate could be “a real deal-breaker” for his business. Colton said the town should give some consideration to businesses like his that use large amounts of water and perhaps look at charging bulk rates or giving them cost breaks.

Parker asked if the town could extend the rate for laundry operations to businesses such as Colton’s. After the vote, Hrbek suggested the town look into making some accommodation for businesses such as Colton’s. Hrbek noted that the town has an ordinance devoted to water rates for coin laundries, but not one for car washes.

Darr mentioned that a survey of rates in the area and other municipalities showed the town ranks about the middle even with the increases.

Funk noted that the previous Town Council’s decision to not raise rates last year or implement a staggered approach resulted in a much higher increase this time.

The major reason for the increases stems from the federal requirements the town must meet on water treatment and sewer discharge, Burke said. The town will dip into reserve funds to help cover the cost to improve the sewer and water systems.

The town, which last raised water and sewer rates two years ago, had anticipated an increase of 15-20 percent for water and sewer but put off that change because of a delay in the work on the proposed improvements to the wastewater treatment plant. The town will stick with the 20 percent increase in the sewer rate as planned last year. However, the delay means the water rate needs to be raised by 23.5 percent rather than 15 percent as proposed last year, Burke said.

Rates go into effect July 1.

Trash collection fees increase from $11 to $12 per month for a 32-gallon container and from $12 to $13.75 for a 96-gallon container. Pickup service for an 8-cubic yard container once a week increases from $217 to $227 per month and from $267 to $277 for twice-a-week collection.

No one spoke during the public hearing held on the first reading for the proposed increases for trash collection. Council voted 6-0 to approve the increases.

The town’s budget for fiscal 2014 calls for a 5 percent reduction in spending on solid waste collection, one of Front Royal’s several enterprise funds designed to be self-sustaining. Even with the spending cuts, the town still needs to increase rates to balance the fund’s budget, Town Manager Steven Burke explained. The town faces a problem with an increase in the number of residents moving out of their homes but failing to pay the last collection bill, Burke said.

“We’re not realizing the revenue necessary to cover all of the costs in that enterprise fund,” Burke said.

The town must charge rates that cover the costs to provide the services, Hrbek explained.

The Department of Environmental Services plans to bring to council recommendations on how the town and the agency can address issues that created the budget shortfall. Such efforts may help reduce the need for future rate increases, officials have said.

The town does not use money from its general fund to balance the budgets of the various services such as water and sewer.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com