Zion Crossroads water system design finalized

Supervisors contribute money toward Aqua legal fight

The room burst into applause when the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the final design of the Zion Crossroads water and sewer system at its meeting Wednesday night (Nov. 1), clearing the way for the project to go out for bid.

“Thank you,” said Wayne Stephens, director of public works, to the Board. “This has been a long, arduous journey.”

The $12.7 million water and sewer system will connect the Zion Crossroads area with up to 75,000 gallons per day of treated water from the women’s prison on Route 250. It will also route between 100,000 and 125,000 gallons per day of sewage back to the prison for treatment.

The system will be constructed with the ability to connect to Louisa County’s water supply when the need arises. Louisa has pledged to provide 400,000 gallons of treated water to Fluvanna at Zion Crossroads.

The final design calls for a water booster pump station, a wastewater pump station and an elevated water storage tank.

Aqua legal fight

Supervisors emerged from closed session with a unanimous vote to contribute $5,000 toward the legal effort to oppose Aqua Virginia’s recent rate increase request.

Aqua provides water and sewer service to nearly 5,000 locations in Lake Monticello, Sycamore Square, Nahor Village and Piedmont Village, and also provides water to Columbia, Palmyra and the Stage Coach neighborhood. The company has recently requested permission from the State Corporation Commission to raise water rates by 11 percent and sewer rates by 5.4 percent. Aqua typically raises its rates every three years.

According to staff in Caroline County – another vicinity served by Aqua – the legal effort to fight Aqua’s request could cost a minimum of $75,000 to $85,000. Caroline has been reaching out to other localities served by Aqua to see if there is interest in partnering financially.

Ida Swenson, a Lake Monticello resident who has been influential in fighting Aqua, urged supervisors to contribute to the effort. The rate increases are “very badly affecting property values at the Lake,” she said. “We have people who are leaving Lake Monticello even though they love the Lake and they love Fluvanna County, because they can’t afford the water and sewer rate. So please, I beg you, do something that says to the SCC that Fluvanna County is aware and supportive of the efforts to stop the rate increase.”

Supervisors Tony O’Brien and Mozell Booker said before the vote that they would support the $5,000 contribution with reluctance, because they believed the contribution should be higher.

“My heart is not in it,” said Booker.

When asked whether the $5,000 figure, which is small in legal terms, was meant as a show of solidarity, County Administrator Steve Nichols said, “Certainly a show of solidarity, but more so a reflection of the number of potentially affected homeowners’ associations and localities. We are not the only locality participating, and if all or many contribute, the sum could be substantial.”

Broadband report

The Broadband Access Taskforce (BAT), made up of Economic Development Director Jason Smith and citizen members Mike Feazel and Michael Aquilino, delivered its final report on the state of internet access in Fluvanna.

The BAT spent most of its time on two subjects, said Aquilino: identifying areas of the county that don’t have broadband access and imagining how to partner with internet service providers to incentivize them to come into the county and provide broadband access.

Included in the report were the following statistics:

  • 61 percent of Fluvanna residents responding to a survey said their internet service is inadequate;
  • 19 percent of school-aged children have no internet service at all at home;
  • 76 percent of county business owners say their internet service is inadequate; and
  • 33 percent of Fluvanna businesses have no internet service at all.

“It’s much more difficult to sell real estate that doesn’t have broadband internet access, [which] seriously depress[es] real estate prices in unserved and underserved areas of Fluvanna,” according to the report.

The BAT recommended three steps for the county: adopt and prioritize broadband goals, determine the desired role of the county in partnerships with internet service providers, and specify what the county will share or invest.

Ultimately the BAT advised supervisors to create a request for proposals (RFP) in the hopes of finding companies interested in bringing broadband to Fluvanna. The RFP would outline what assets the county has, what its needs are, and what the county might be willing to do to help bring in internet.

School budget

Superintendent Chuck Winkler gave supervisors a preview of preliminary budget focuses for fiscal year 2019 (FY19) and indicated that the schools may seek $2.2 million above the current local funding level.

Early high estimates of health insurance increases may call for an additional $600,000 in spending, Winkler said. He wants to give all school staff a 1 percent raise, at a cost of $280,000, and a step increase, which would cost $220,000. “We’re just now getting back to the budget where we were seven or eight years ago,” he said.

There are many factors up in the air at this point in time, Winkler said, including the health insurance rate increase, utility savings, propane usage and state budget allocations. The election of a new governor will also affect the school budget in unknown ways.

Meeting attendance

O’Brien raised the question of supervisor attendance at meetings on separate boards to which supervisors are assigned. Some of those boards come with pay attached.

“My attendance record on the Planning Commission is at 50 percent, and a taxpayer brought up a concern as to whether I was being unfairly compensated for my attendance,” O’Brien said. He asked for more information about actual supervisor meeting attendance and how attendance affects pay.

Nichols said that supervisors who sit on the Planning Commission, the social services board and the jail board are paid for their services.

Planning Commission members must take a training course, Nichols said, but the Board of Supervisors liaison, in this case O’Brien, is not required to take the course because he is not an actual member of the Planning Commission. Instead he is the Board of Supervisors liaison. The Board liaison is “a really important link because a Board member thinks in a different way than [a Planning Commissioner] does,” Nichols said.

Nichols said that the typical rate of supervisor attendance at outside board meetings has been around 75 percent.

“I can understand the taxpayer’s concern, which is why I asked whether or not [pay] can be based on attendance,” O’Brien said.

Nichols said that County Attorney Fred Payne would have to examine the legality of the issue and that county staff would check with other counties to see how they handle the situation.

But Nichols said that he doesn’t like the idea. “Attendance for the Planning Commission is, for me, not a good measure,” he said. “You’re still doing work, you’re still doing research, you’re still visiting sites, you’re still making phone calls.”

The jail board, which does pay according to attendance, “is a different story,” Nichols said. “You show up at the meeting and the rest of the month you don’t think about it.”