In March 2016, the Greene County Board of Supervisors unveiled the White Run Reservoir Water Impoundment Project. This project is intended to address the 2009 Regional Water Supply Plan by providing an adequate, safe, and additional demand for water over the next 30-plus years.
There is no doubt that Greene County will need water and sewer capacity for community livelihood and for future economic development.
To prepare for this project, Greene County purchased 201 acres for the reservoir located on Dairy Road (Route 633), just west of U.S. 29 (Map Number: 51 A 25C). The actual reservoir will be 125 flooded acres capable of storing 900,000,000 gallons of water.
By all indications, the project is currently in fast-track mode, with all permits in place with only a few steps remaining: paying between $7 million and $8 million for the Stream and Wetland Mitigation Credits to offset the environmental impact of the project, deciding on the final project design, and determining how to finance the $45 million to $65 million dollar project for the next 30-plus years.
There are benefits that this project will provide, such as the aforementioned additional water and wastewater capacity that is vital for economic development and supporting future growth as the current water and wastewater infrastructure is aging and operating almost at capacity. However, there are also major costs and challenges that we as a community should be aware of and think about very hard.
Greene County must borrow between $45 million and $65 million to complete the project. This borrowing is in addition to the current outstanding debt of $38.5 million dollars.
Structuring the payments for the new debt will be challenging. Debt repayment choices, as proposed by Davenport & Co., could include increasing RSA water and wastewater rates as much as 244 percent when compared with the EPA affordability guidelines.
Compare the current average water and wastewater rate of $58 to paying $200 for the same service in the near future. This information was presented to the Board of Supervisors in March of this year. There will be several options on the table to spread the cost of this project.
You might say, "The water project doesn't effect me because I have a well.” This seems reasonable at first glance, but is not exactly correct. There is a relatively small customer base for county water service. This small number of users is not able to support the large cost of the project with their fees alone. It may be necessary for all taxpayers to help subsidize the cost which will likely result in increased tax rates. Rough estimates of the increase required run as high as 23 cents on 100 dollars of assessed property. This could be offset by growth in the commercial tax base.
You might also say, “Since I have a well, I don't have to connect to the county water system.” This is not exactly correct either. What other localities have done is to pass ordinances that will require connection to municipal utilities if a property is transferred or sold. Costs for the connection fees have been borne by the property owner in this scenario.
A sound water system is essential for continued and healthy economic growth in Greene County. What’s most important is that this project be done right and with input from and to the Board of Supervisors. We govern together and they deserve our input on this very important project.