While King George County taxpayers aren’t facing an increase in real estate taxes, the same isn’t true for water and sewer bills.

The King George County Service Authority plans to raise its rates, again, as part of a five-year plan to get its financial house back in order and make some much-needed repairs.

The Service Authority held a virtual public hearing Tuesday about the rate hike, and only one resident offered a comment. Jim Lynch, who served on a citizens’ advisory committee that helped the Service Authority plan its budget last year, encouraged the board members to “stick to the plan and pass the budget as advertised.”

The plan, which is scheduled for approval on June 2, includes a 4 percent hike in consumption and debt-service fees for both water and sewer. Bills are sent out every two months in King George, so for the average household using 10,000 gallons of water, the bi-monthly bill would rise from $262.87 to $273.38.

Deposits for new accounts, connection fees and tampering fees would remain the same.

Lynch also thanked the Service Authority board of directors—which consists of two members of the Board of Supervisors and three residents—for taking action “to move beyond the sad state of affairs of the past” that included failure to meet regulatory standards, fines and mismanagement.

“This ship is beginning to be righted,” Lynch wrote in an email.

That action comes with a cost that’s born by the 4,000-plus customers of the Service Authority. When the board approved a plan last spring to restructure finances, the authority had accumulated $25 million in debt from the purchase of old, dilapidated systems, efforts to meet state and federal regulations and about $15 million in repairs. The previous general manager hadn’t maintained equipment or facilities as needed and had ignored warnings about water quality violations and subsequent fines.

The Service Authority approved a five-year plan to restructure the debt, borrow $4 million for the most immediate repairs and raise rates to bring in more money. Under the plan, rates rose 10 percent the first fiscal year, which will end June 30.

The plan also called for rates to go up 4 percent for the next four years. Fiscal 2021 is the second year of the five-year plan.

Even though the directors approved the overall package in June 2019, the budget has to be approved each spring by the current board, and that board, by law, has to advertise and hold a public hearing about the matter.

While King George’s consumption fees are scheduled to rise by pennies per gallon in some categories, the biggest complaint from customers in the past has focused on debt service.

Every two months, bills include a fee that’s designed to whittle away at the Service Authority’s hefty debt. For fiscal year 2021, the debt fee for water would be $37.37 and for sewer, $60.99. That means customers who are on county water and sewer are billed $98.36 every two months—before they turn on the tap or flush a toilet.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Service Authority has waived late fees and interest for those who can’t pay their water and sewer bills on time. The action affects the late fees only—not the bills themselves. The Board of Directors will formally approve that action on June 2, noting the waiver will have been in effect from March, when the local emergency was declared, to the last day of the month in which the local emergency ends.

“We need to do everything we can to help our customers get through this, particularly when one of the primary, simplest courses of action to fight disease is to wash your hands with soap and water,” said Director Annie Cupka.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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