The Board of Supervisors again went on record opposing a proposed Aqua Virginia water rate increase and a new infrastructure surcharge when it met Friday at Greenfield Education and Training Center.
The supervisors voted 4-0— with John Williamson III abstaining— to pass a resolution to essentially use whatever leverage it has with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to oppose a water rate increases for Aqua Virginia customers in Botetourt that could range as high as 31 percent. The board also opposed a proposed new water and wastewater infrastructure service charge (WWISC) that would also affect the 2,500 Botetourt residential and business customers in the Blue Ridge and Cloverdale areas.
Aqua Virginia has a number of water and sewer systems in Virginia and has applied for water rate increases that would amount to a $1.48 million increase in revenues— an average 11 percent increase for all of those customers.
County Attorney Michael Lockaby told the supervisors an analysis of the proposed rate increase could mean a 24 to 31 percent water rate hike for customers in the British Woods and Apple Tree Village areas in Southern Botetourt.
The proposed WWISC would be a new surcharge that the supervisors say will not have the same SCC oversight as water rates that could result in even a much greater increase in rates.
Lockaby said a team of attorneys and specialists from other communities in Virginia affected by the proposed Aqua Virginia rate increase are working together to fight the increase before the SCC.
The supervisors’ resolution opposing the rate increase and new WWISC argues that the increases “would have deleterious effects on the County and its citizens,” and called them “unjust and unreasonable.”
The resolution also directs the county administration and county attorney to file a Notice of Participation with the SCC so that the county can officially make objections before the SCC.
According to staff reports, several other localities and the Virginia Attorney General have or will appear before the SCC to contest the scope and amount of the rate increase.
The SCC approved a rate increase for Aqua Virginia a year ago— an increase that was a bit smaller than the one the water company had applied for and imposed in August 2014.
The 2014 rate increase was designed to provide $1.4 million in added revenue and a 10.3 percent rate of return on equity. The SCC set a new return on equity of 9.25 percent for Aqua Virginia a year ago.
Lockaby told the supervisors it’s important for local leaders t o show up when the SCC holds hearings on the rate increases.
Valley District and Blue Ridge District Supervisors Mac Scothorn and Billy Martin said they would.
“Twenty-four percent is unreasonable,” Scothorn said of the possible rate increase. “This has got to stop…we’ve got to put the brakes on this.”
Martin said Aqua wants to establish the WWISC fund because the company returns all its profits to the stockholders rather than putting money aside in a capital fund. “It’s just another way to get more money for them and stockholders.”
Williamson said he was abstaining because he spent 30 years in the utility business with Roanoke Gas and he didn’t know enough about Aqua Virginia’s rate increase request to say it was “unjust and unreasonable,” as the board’s resolution states.