Fork Union water

Established in 1966 to provide water to Fork Union-area homes with inadequate water supplies – some with no indoor plumbing whatsoever – FUSD covers a significant portion of the Fork Union magisterial district and serves approximately 430 customers, including Fork Union Military Academy.

But FUSD’s recent finances have been troubled.  It now owes the county $118,000.

In 2010 the county approved a $40,000 loan to FUSD with the understanding that it would be repaid by the June 2011.  Not only did FUSD not repay the funds, but in 2013 it received another county loan of $30,000.  In 2014 the county supplied another $39,000.


Why are FUSD’s financials in such a mess?  “I don’t think anybody paid close attention to the cost versus the money coming in – at least not anybody in a decision-making capacity,” said Wayne Stephens, director of public works.  “I think they kind of stopped doing some of the maintenance repairs, preventative-type things, because money was getting short.  Now we have a backlog of maintenance that needs to be done and still not enough cash to do it.”

The system can’t simply be cut off, of course, because that would leave its 430 customers without water.  Plus, said Stephens, it’s illegal to abandon a public water system.

In September 2014 FUSD raised its rates 25 to 28 percent, resulting in a billing increase of about $50,000 a year, Finance Director Eric Dahl told supervisors.  The rate increase was a step in the “correct direction to make FUSD a little more self-sustained,” Dahl said.

There is another option for bringing revenue to FUSD.  A sanitary district is nothing more than a special tax district, explained Stephens.  Everyone within the sanitary district – whether they’re FUSD water customers or not – could be assessed a small real estate related tax to finance the water system, said Stephens.  In fact, that is the entire purpose of forming a sanitary district.  “It’s not popular but it’s legal, and it was the original intent for forming the district,” said Stephens.

Supervisor Don Weaver took issue with FUSD’s need for continual bail outs.  “I’m going to make a suggestion that maybe within the next three months staff could come with some solution…[as to] how we could get this debt paid off and get money in some manner,” he said.

“But the money is not coming in, and you know the system is old,” countered Supervisor Mozell Booker, who represents the Fork Union district.  “When we will get on our feet I don’t know, but we will in the future.  And everybody’s doing everything that they can do.  And we don’t have the customers.”

In fact, said Booker, she feels “pretty proud of the fact that we’re only asking for $9,000.”

When Weaver asked if FUSD could catch up on its negative balance given the recent rate increase, County Administrator Steve Nichols said he would put a FUSD presentation on the agenda for the next meeting, then follow it with periodic updates.

“The reality is that it’s not going to change the way that maybe Mr. Weaver would like to see it change,” said Booker.  “I think that in the future we will be able to do better, but it’s going to take time.  And that’s the reality.”

“That’s what bothers me, that that’s the reality,” said Weaver.  “Let’s look at it again and do something.”

But Booker emphasized that FUSD simply has no money.  “How in the world can we think that FUSD will pay $40,000 back to the county?” she asked.

“How’d we think that back in 2010?” asked Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch.

Stephens noted that FUSD faced a couple of “extraordinary” maintenance issues this year that negatively affected its cash flow.  “I think things are looking up for revenue,” he said.  Were it not for those maintenance issues, he said FUSD may have been able to pay $11,000 or $12,000 back to the county rather than asking for a $9,000 loan.

“We may need to consider after this year whether we want to do another 2 or 3 percent bump in the rates,” he said.

Supervisors unanimously approved the loan.

“The guys down there are, in my opinion, some of the hardest-working employees the county has anywhere,” said Stephens of the FUSD maintenance crew.  “They really care about the system, but they aren’t in a position of power to really do anything about it.  Now that the Board is more aware of what’s going on, we’re going to fix it.  We’re trending in the right direction – it’s just a matter of keeping tabs on it.”


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