After nearly two decades, Greene County is finally moving toward its goal of building a facility that can help the county grow economically and ensure safe drinking water for residents in the future.
The Greene County Board of Supervisors learned the status of the Greene County Water Supply and Treatment Project, including a reservoir and new treatment facility, during its May 26 meeting.
“The engineering documents have been completed; all the site plans have been completed and they are ready for final review on some of them,” said Jim Frydl, director of planning and zoning administrator. “The reservoir property … acquisition of that is complete and pipeline acquisition is still under way. We’re working with the property owners.”
The county’s water supply is the Rapidan River, with no reservoir and a 60-gallons-per-minute well for backup. The existing plant on U.S. 29 south near the Madison County line has a capacity of 1.5 million gallons per day.
The new treatment facility and state permit will allow a capacity and river draw of 3.5 million gallons per day in wet weather. The 900-million-gallon reservoir will be used during periods of dry weather to minimize the impact on the Rapidan River.
The reservoir site is between Dairy, Wood and Fredericksburg roads in Ruckersville. It will include 125 flooded acres and a 1,460-foot-long dam. Cost estimates are between $45-65 million and the county has already acquired bond funds of more than
$10 million to purchase stream mitigation credits required by the federal government for the loss of habitat near the proposed reservoir site.
With the majority of the engineering phase complete, the county is moving into preparation for construction, Frydl said.
In 2017, Stantec, an international professional services company in the design and consulting industry, looked at how to pay for the existing debt of the current water system and for the future water impoundment and treatment plant. Stantec consultants recommended a phased increase in the facility fee for customers to help pay for the project, putting the weight on users instead of roughly 7.5 cents per $100 in real estate taxes from the entire county population. The fee is based on how much water is reserved for the customer, called EDUs or equivalent dwelling units and one facility fee is included on the bill. One EDU is the amount reserved per residential building. Larger commercial properties have purchased more than one EDU and receive a facility fee per EDU.
“Recommendation number two from Stantec has already been completed where … we brought the user fee up to $30 per EDU connection,” Frydl said. “Recommendation number three was to gradually increase the facility fee over time to provide funding for the reservoir and get us ready for the long-term project.”
Mark Taylor, county administrator, said that even though the facility fee hasn’t been raised in accordance with the recommendations—it should be up to $35 in 2020—he suggested the county consider waiting until Jan. 1, 2021 to increase it by $3 per month.
“I’m introducing tonight the hard reality about paying the cost, or affording the cost, of the water project to serve Greene County,” Taylor said. “We understand that some of the economic forces at work have made it hard for residents and families. It is necessary, we believe, to move forward certainly with this project and that affording the project depends upon raising the revenue necessary to support or fund the debt service.”
The county pays Rapidan Service Authority (RSA) 10% of the fee for the utility to add it to the water bills. The county originally added a $10 facility fee to the bills, which equaled $1 per account per month to the utility. Taylor said the cost is now $3 per EDU, not account. Taylor said he has requested that RSA consider instead of 10%, it become a flat $1 per EDU, which is roughly $2,900 a month.
“We understand and have sympathy for the desire to keep the bill for the customer as low as possible. And so the simple proposition or question really to RSA that I had was, if the work could be done of adding our facility fee to their bill for the cost of $1 per account per month, why not keep the billing charge at the flat rate of $1 per month rather than having it run up to 10%?” Taylor said. “It was simply a question; I hope that the RSA board will consider it. No one takes any particular pleasure in raising the fee. There is simply the realization that it is necessary based on the competent financial modeling that has been done to raise the fee in order to pay the debt service to make the necessary improvements.”
The 10% administrative charge comes from the second amendment to the Ruckersville Water System Ownership and Management Agreement between Greene and RSA from 2014 to “pay for the new billing format needed for such fee collection,” according to the document.
Chairman Bill Martin, Stanardsville, suggested that the board focus on the Stantec portion of the presentation.
“We’ve agreed to the 10%,” Martin said. “So, Mr. Taylor made the suggestion to the RSA board and RSA general management for them to consider this. It’s been put on the table. We don’t have a reaction yet. We can come back to the 10% fee another time when we get a response from RSA, but right now I’d like to focus discussion on the next four years of our financial plan and hear your thoughts on that.”
Frydl said the board has to have the public hearing by August. Taylor suggested after the start of the fiscal year 2021 year on July 1.
For a full accounting of the process to build the project, originally called the White Run Reservoir, visit https://bit.ly/2ZUPgJN.