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Shannon Becker, president of Aqua Virginia. Photo courtesy of Aqua AmericaRelations between Aqua Virginia and the homeowners within Aqua’s Lake Monticello water and sewer system have been strained by recent events, causing some to call into question whether Aqua communicates effectively with its customers.
Aqua has applied with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) for a rate hike to yield a 12 percent increase in water revenue and a 6.7 percent increase in sewer revenue. It has also requested permission to institute a water and wastewater infrastructure service charge (WWISC) to support infrastructure projects.
Each proposal will have a public hearing in Richmond – the WWISC’s hearing is March 10 and the rate increase’s hearing is March 24. But the public outcry over a rate increase has been so overwhelming that the SCC hearing examiner ordered two rate increase public hearings right here in Fluvanna on March 16 – a first for Aqua Virginia and Lake Monticello.
WWISC notification
The SCC required Aqua to notify each customer individually of its WWISC request, and so last September the company included the necessary paperwork in customers’ bills.
But one of the Lake Monticello Owners’ Association’s (LMOA) WWISC notifications was addressed simply to the Riverside Gate entrance – not a valid address – arriving without an envelope as five sheets of paper folded and sealed with plastic tabs, said LMOA General Manager Catherine Neelley. “It was delivered to the clubhouse eventually,” she said.
“It was very disrespectful the way the message was sent to us,” said Lake resident Ida Swenson. “It was very insulting, especially since LMOA is Aqua Virginia’s biggest customer. And they certainly seem to know where to send the bills.”
When asked why the notification didn’t come to LMOA’s proper address, Aqua Virginia President Shannon Becker replied that LMOA “must have an account with that address on file.” And as an Aqua customer with 21 separate monthly bills, LMOA did receive 21 WWISC notifications properly tucked inside its bills.
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Jamie Beadle of Lake Monticello Water Rescue. Photo by Tricia JohnsonArnie and Adrian Wipf, ages 4 and 5…Kyron Aikens, 13…Zae’ Quan White, 7…Kymello McLane, 8…Carter Dyke, 14. These are just some of the names of children who have fallen through ice and drowned since the 1st of January. One of these children was in Maryland, another in North Carolina. In Virginia there have been heart-stopping near misses in Fairfax, Virginia Beach, and Roanoke, where children had ventured out onto the ice, fallen through, and were drowning when rescued, just in the nick of time.
Lake Monticello Police have responded to dozens of calls from residents concerned about children playing on the ice covering the lake, according to LMPD Chief Tom Boisvert. While he empathizes with people – including families – who want to go out onto the ice to skate, Boisvert has serious concerns. “The lake doesn’t have a lot of shallow water areas. If someone falls through, it’s going to be deep.” he said.
Posts to the Lake Monticello Facebook page indicate that many of the children that residents have called to report out on the ice have been unattended by adults.
Jamie Beadle of Lake Monticello Water Rescue explained that the ice that forms on lakes and ponds in Virginia is much more dangerous than the ice that forms farther north. Many Lake Monticello residents remember skating on local ponds and lakes in the northern states where they are from; the ice here is very different, and not safe. “…the type of ice that typically forms in Central Virginia is impacted by many things that make it unsafe to venture out on,” Beadle wrote in an email. “While as little as two inches of clear, strong ice can support a single person - the ice that we have seen form on area waterways in the last week is not clear, and not that thick. At the Lake Monticello main beach on Saturday morning, the ice was only an inch thick near the docks. It also was not clear,” he added, “but cloudy from freeze and thaw cycles.” He added that snow cover on the ice also weakens it.
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The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday night (Feb. 18) to advertise a real property tax rate of 93.5 cents, up 7.5 cents or 8.7 percent from fiscal year 2016’s equalized rate of 86 cents per $100 valuation – if it sticks.
Supervisors vote to advertise a tax rate that may or may not end up being the actual tax rate for the county. They can set the tax rate at or lower than the rate they advertise, but cannot raise it without re-advertising to the public – a usually prohibitive process that would delay the implementation of a budget until June, County Administrator Steve Nichols said.
Only about three citizens stayed for the vote who were not county staff, news reporters, or directly affiliated with the public school system.
Fluvanna County Superintendent Gena Keller began the budget talk by presenting the schools’ budget request. “We asked for what we needed,” she told supervisors.
Keller requested $16.5 million in local funds, or $1.243 million above local funding from last year: $190,000 to cover a state funding drop, $253,000 for salaries, $313,000 for health insurance, $188,000 for additional staff and professional development, and $300,000 for technology replacement.
Forthcoming state legislation could change the amount of her request, lowering it to $1.12 million or raising it to $1.275 million.
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Bringing the first batch of water and sewer to Zion Crossroads may cost Fluvanna County about $8 million, Jeff Kapinos of RK&K Engineers told supervisors Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 18) as he presented his company’s preliminary engineering report.
The $8 million would provide Fluvanna’s Zion Crossroads area with about 75,000 gallons per day of water through an agreement with the Department of Corrections (DOC). It would also pay for sewer force mains, or collection pipes. Kapinos said he considered this plan to provide for Fluvanna’s short-term needs.
In the “mid-term” Kapinos recommended finding a way to supplement the DOC option, and ultimately pointed to the James River Water Authority (JRWA). “That really is your long-term solution,” he said.
As the first part of a plan, the DOC “is a very good deal,” he said.
Wayne Stephens, director of public works, told supervisors that buying water from Louisa County would come at a much higher cost per gallon.
“You can’t beat the DOC numbers,” Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch agreed. “And it gives us the opportunity to start up at a fairly low cost.”
Throughout the evening Supervisor Tony O’Brien tried to make the point that while he supported the DOC option, he didn’t want its $8 million price tag to weigh against any future investments supervisors may make in bringing water to the area. “If you’re saying let’s spend $8 million today, don’t be surprised by the next request,” he said, referring to the significant cost of a partnership with Louisa.
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Fork Union will soon have a new look along Rt. 15 near Fork Union Military Academy, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors learned Wednesday night (Feb. 18).
From the Fork Union post office to Pettit Foster Lane, Rt. 15 will be improved with curbs and gutters, crosswalks, concrete sidewalks with grass utility strips, vehicle entrances, street lights, and metering equipment, at a cost of $481,760.
The Fork Union streetscape project is mostly funded by two transportation grants from VDOT. VDOT put in 80 percent of the funds, or $385,000, and the county contributed a required 20 percent match at $96,760.
Three alternate plans give the options of extending the improvement area to Academy Road, substituting brick pavers in lieu of the grass utility strips, and adding trees and furnishings. The alternate plans come at a total additional cost of $106,000.
S. Walker Construction submitted the lowest bid and expects to begin the project sometime in March, Finance Director Eric Dahl told supervisors. The project should be completed around the end of November.
Between money already expended, the $354,730 construction contract itself, and a 5 percent contingency fund, the $481,760 is essentially completely allocated. “It’s going to be tight,” Dahl said.
Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the contract with S. Walker Construction.
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