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Albemarle considers changing water leak policy
Mitch King before the ACSA, August 16, 2012
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Mitch King of Blue Ridge Sand before the Albemarle County Service Authority
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by Sean Tubbs | Friday, August 17, 2012 at 12:46 a.m.

The Albemarle County Service Authority board of directors is reviewing the policy through which water bills can be adjusted for customers who repair unintentional leaks that result in large bills. 

“Many utilities make water leak adjustments for a broader range of leaks,” said ACSA executive director Gary O’Connell said. “Our policy limits it only to outdoor service lines from the ACSA owned meter at the edge of the street to the house connection,” O’Connell said.
 
Leaks in indoor plumbing and those in irrigation systems are currently excluded. 
 
“Upon presentation of evidence that a customer’s water service line leak has been promptly repaired, the water charge will be adjusted to the wholesale rate for all water 
above the customer’s normal  consumption,” reads the current policy. 
 
Additionally, fees are dropped for the estimated amount of water that did not enter the sewer system. 
 
The ACSA charges its customers according to a tiered rate structure. Customers who use more than 9,000 gallons are charged $13.76 for every additional 1,000 gallons. The wholesale rate is $3.44 for 1,000 gallons. 
 
In July, Duane Bickers appeared before the board to appeal a $3,400 water bill that was the result of a leak in his lawn sprinkler system which is excluded from the current policy. Over 165,000 gallons of water were lost before an ACSA meter reader discovered the problem. 
 
Bickers asked to be charged at the wholesale rate, but the request was denied. 
 
“These requests periodically come up to the Board, and it seemed like the opportunity to review the larger policy, not just a specific high bill from a large leak,” O’Connell said. 
 
Jim Colbaugh, a former member of the ACSA, said the tiered rate is intended to encourage water conservation and not punish homeowners who have unfortunate leaks. 
 
“[The tiered-system is for intentional water use and a leak is an unintentional water use,” Colbaugh said. “We’re trying to curb an action that can’t be curbed because it was unintentional.” 
 
Colbaugh suggested that the adjusted rate for all unintentional leaks be set at the commercial rate of $6.43 per 1,000 gallons. 
 
“The true cost of water is our commercial rate,” Colbaugh said. 
 
John Martin, another former ACSA member, suggested that the board investigate the possibility of providing an insurance policy for those who have unintentional leaks rather than change the policy. 
 
Staff recommended not changing the policy for a variety of reasons including fairness.
 
“Most internal leaks on the customer side can and should be recognized and promptly repaired,” wrote ACSA Finance Director Lisa Breeden in a staff report. “If they don’t pay, the rest of our customers have to subsidize their bill since the ACSA is charged for water and sewer.”
 
In fiscal year 2011, the ACSA made 199 rate adjustments, meaning the agency lost $101,202.55 in revenue. 
 
O’Connell said that number would likely rise to between 400 and 500 leaks a year if the policy was broadened. 
 
However, the board sought further study and the item will come back before them in October. 
 
In other news, Mitch King of Blue Ridge Sand appeared before the ACSA to raise awareness of his company’s appeal of an RWSA decision to exclude his bid to dredge a portion of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.  The proposal was not reviewed because it did not contain an audited financial statement. 
 
“The RWSA was supposed to pass the proposals unopened to an evaluation committee which would numerically rate the proposals and make note of any deficiencies,” King said. “What actually occurred was that RWSA staff opened the proposals when they arrived and evaluated them for what staff believed to be deficiencies… they then summarily rejected our proposals without forwarding it to the evaluation committee.”
 
The only remaining proposal is from Orion Marine Construction Incorporated. The RWSA is in negotiations with the company.
 
However, King said the Orion proposal should also have been eliminated as he claimed the financial statement they submitted is invalid because it is for a holding company and not for the actual company that will do the work. 
 
King said Blue Ridge Sand has not consulted an attorney and wants the matter to be handled administratively. 
 
“It would be inappropriate for this board to make any statement or to get involved in this in any way other than to consider what you said today,” said ACSA Chair Clarence Roberts
 
The ACSA also set an Oct. 18 date for a public hearing for the special rate district created to finance the North Fork Regional Pump Station in northern Albemarle county. The sewer pump station was built to replace aging infrastructure and to handle additional capacity as that section of the community grows. 
 
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