Three days after the Charlottesville City Council held its public hearing on the sewer cost-sharing agreement, and deferred a vote until next month, the Albemarle County Service Authority gave the plan its nod.
Albemarle officials said the agreement would establish a fair and fact-based framework to pay for future sewer capacity projects the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority implements.
“This agreement is trying to get at all the different projects that have been hanging out there with no agreements as to who pays how much,” said service authority Executive Director Gary O’Connell. “It puts formulas in place so that as projects come in the future, we have an agreement to apply so we don’t have to go through a whole new set of negotiations.”
As compared to the contentious debate over the cost sharing agreement before the City Council, the Albemarle County Service Authority’s Board of Directors reached consensus quickly at Thursday’s meeting. There were no speakers at the public hearing.
O’Connell said the negotiations over the past two years grew in scope from just being about the Rivanna Pump Station to encompassing all future sewer projects. He emphasized that the cost sharing formulas would be based on a “user pays” regime, “those that use the most pay the most.”
The cost allocation will be adjusted over time to reflect population growth and the improvements each locality is making to plug leaks keeping stormwater out of the sewer system.
Board member Clarence Roberts said he still had reservations about Albemarle picking up some of the costs to relocate the sewer pump station out of the city’s Woolen Mills neighborhood.
“I understand that Woolen Mills residents wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to move the pump station out of their neighborhood,” Roberts said. “Our board felt that the city should pay for that portion of that project.”
O’Connell said the cost of a boring a tunnel that would facilitate the pump station’s move, will be significantly less expensive than previously thought. He said the additional cost had dropped from $13 million to $5.5 million.
“Our negotiating team … took all of this into consideration … and I am ready to vote in favor of this agreement,” Roberts said. “I believe this agreement is fair for both the city and the Albemarle County Service Authority.”
Board member Charles Tolbert said increased metering of sewer flows would be an important activity moving forward.
“This agreement includes putting in a lot more meters and measuring the flow much more accurately then they would be able to do now,” Tolbert said.
“That’s absolutely true,” said board attorney James Bowling. “This agreement before you will … establish a new method for doing things based upon engineering concepts rather than political concepts.”
O’Connell thanked Bowling for his work on the agreement and noted he has been involved with the service authority’s legal work for more than 40 years.
The board voted 5-0 to approve the sewer cost-sharing agreement. Board member Kimberly Swanson could not attend the meeting.
“It’s been a very challenging process,” said board member Bill Kittrell. “I think we have come out of it with a very solid agreement that is in the best interests of … our ratepayers and customers. This agreement does a very good job representing them in a fair and equitable way.”
The City Council agreed Monday to place the cost-share agreement as an action item on its April 7 agenda. Councilors Kathy Galvin, Satyendra Huja and Kristin Szakos have said they support the plan. Councilors Dede Smith and Bob Fenwick have said they are opposed.