Charlottesville City Council

has voted on rate increases for the City’s gas, water and sewer utilities. While Council had little debate over the increases on ratepayers

at its June 2, 2008 meeting

, they did express concerns over the higher connection fees that would be charged for new development. A typical connection fee will rise from $1,600 for both water and sewer to more than $6,000.

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“I actually had three or four developers  in my office last week…and there was one building something on the Mall that was a little upset that  [the connection fee] was going up because he had already built it into his cost, and this was not a part of his cost,” said Bernard Wray, the City’s Finance Director.

Finance Director Bernard Wray addresses Council

The City Attorney’s office offered up an amendment that would grandfather in the existing rates for developers who already have building permits issued before June 16, 2008. Council voted 5-0 to adopt the amendment.

Council had asked to know if the higher connection fees would affect affordable housing projects.  Wray said he needed more information on what “affordable” meant, and Neighborhood Development Services staff will be working on a  definition to present to Council at a meeting in July. In general, Wray said one potential strategy would be to charge lower connection fees for projects that qualify as affordable, rather than reimburse developers from the affordable housing trust fund created by Council last year.

Wray also presented further information about how the higher connection fees will keep utility rates down over the next few years as millions of dollars are spent on maintenance and capacity expansion for the City’s water and sewer systems

Wray also said he also looked at ways to cut expenses in the utilities department.  For example, he told Council he had considered eliminating a $100,000 planned renovation of the Public Works building’s lobby to create a centralized customer service desk. Eliminating that project could reduce this year’s rate increase by an average of 22 cents a month, but Wray said he recommended putting that money into a rate stabilization fund to keep next year’s rates down. Council agreed with the latter strategy and voted 5-0 to adopt the new ordinance, and the new rates will take effect July 1, 2008.

Sean Tubbs

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Charlottesville Tomorrow

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