Given the choice between an 8 percent or 10 percent increase in rates for the next five years as part of a plan to restructure current debt and get ready to take on more, members of a citizens’ advisory committee working with the King George County Service Authority have suggested the higher amount.

“I think 10 is the way to go,” committee member Yvonne Richard said. “Clearly, we’re in dire need of a financial infusion.”

For two years, King George residents have served as citizen advisers with the Board of Supervisors and Service Authority Board of Directors as they put together their annual budget. The residents don’t get a vote, but county officials consider their input vital.

“It makes a huge difference because you’re the ones impacted by this,” said Supervisor and Service Authority Director Ruby Brabo. “You also become the advocate out in the community to help [others] understand why you gave us the feedback of how we should go forward.”

On Tuesday, King George’s financial consultant, Davenport & Co., gave its second presentation in two weeks on a five-year plan to increase rates. The additional money is needed as the Service Authority tries to restructure current debt, which is about $32 million, and show it can take on more. Another consultant has identified about $15 million worth of repairs and improvements needed to long-neglected Service Authority plants and equipment.

Davenport Vice President Kyle Laux initially presented a 10 percent increase in rates from fiscal 2020 to fiscal 2024. But because this is an election year for three county supervisors, Service Authority Chairman Mike Bennett wanted Davenport to bring back a proposal with 8 percent increases because they might be “more politically palatable.”

But because of the way the rates are compounded annually, the difference between the two was so slim in the long run that all four citizen committee members advised going with the higher number Tuesday night.

“It could be that 10 percent is an indication of how serious we’re taking this,” committee member Jim Lynch said.

Here’s how King George water and sewer rates would rise, based on the Service Authority proposal. The example uses a family of four and an average of 5,000 gallons of water per month. King George residents pay their bills every other month, so the total average currently for Service Authority users is about $239 per bill.

Under the 10 percent increase, the bill would go up to $262 in 2020, then to $272 the next year, $284 the next, $296 the next and top $304 in fiscal 2024.

The proposed bills go up $10 to $11 per month each time there’s an increase, but may seem more daunting because they’re doubled on the bi-monthly bills. Bennett would like to see the Service Authority switch to monthly bills because he believes they would be easier for people to budget.

The proposed rates account for a 10 percent increase across the board, in water and sewer usage, as well as the debt service fee for both entities. Residents repeatedly have pointed out in the past that the debt fees are higher than their bimonthly consumption.

Service Authority Vice Chairman Christopher Werle agrees, saying that’s the case for him and his wife.

People new to the county often ask why Service Authority bills are so high, said Rob Gates, a member of the citizens’ committee and former technical director at the Navy base in Dahlgren. After seeing the numbers, of current debt and project expenses, Gates said he can now answer them.

He liked the five-year plan “as a way to stabilize the problems going forward.”

Service Authority General Manger Jonathon Weakley will give his final presentation on the fiscal 2020 budget April 30, about 7 p.m., after the Board of Supervisors approves its spending plan.

Then, residents will get their chance to speak about the proposed rate hikes on May 7 during a public hearing that begins at 6:30 p.m. The budget goes into effect July 1.

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Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425 cdyson@freelancestar.com

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