County residents to see town utility bills rise

By Alex Bridges

Shenandoah County residents who live outside the towns and pay for municipal utilities also can expect to see their bills increase starting in July.

Bob Bennett and other homeowners in The Meadows at Strasburg Junction receive water and sewer service from Strasburg, and not by choice. Customers who live outside the town limits pay 40 percent more for the utility service.

Bennett won’t be alone as most towns that supply water and sewer service to some customers outside their limits also raised utility rates. The rate changes apply to out-of-town customers who already pay more for the utilities.

But Bennett on Thursday recalled his shock at hearing that his water and sewer rates would increase by 12 and 6 percent, respectively. Town Council earlier this week approved a fiscal 2014 budget that also includes the utility rate increases officials say are needed to pay for mandated upgrades to Strasburg’s treatment plants.

Bennett’s most recent bill showed the town charged him $147 for water and sewer each of the past two months. Bennett claimed this amount exceeds what he pays for cable, telephone, Internet and electricity combined.

“It’s just crazy,” Bennett said. “I’m gonna tell you I don’t water my plants. I don’t water my yard. I don’t wash my car. This is just taking basic showers and doing your laundry and stuff like that.”

Bennett said he’s been told the additional 40 percent goes to upkeep the water tower located near the subdivision. He questioned how the town came up with that amount.

Bennett acknowledged Strasburg’s need to pay for plant upgrade, but still voiced shock that the town would increase the rates over the already higher levy charged to out-of-town customers.

Approximately 190 customers pay the out-of-town rates, Finance Director Dottie Mullins said. But, as Mullins pointed out, these out-of-town customers also do not pay the real estate and personal property tax levies charged to Strasburg residents who come in addition to the rates assessed in Shenandoah County.

Bennett and his family moved into the subdivision about 12 years ago. Not long after they began to notice the cost of their water.

“I kept getting these high water bills and I’m thinking ‘what in the heck?'” Bennett recalled. “I got my first water bill and I thought I had a leak.”

Bennett has been paying the additional 40 percent for water since he moved to the subdivision. He recalled that other residents found out about the higher rate only when they had their water turned on.

Homeowners in the subdivision have little choice.

“We can’t build wells,” Bennett said. “There’s no other alternative water source that we can go with.”

Bennett noted that the covenants of his subdivision bars homeowners from digging wells. Bennett suspected that the developer may have been asked to include that prohibition early in the subdivision’s creation.

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