Fairfax County is continuing to press ahead with a proposal to take more control of water rates throughout the county.
Although the Board of Supervisors took no official action Tuesday, discussion suggested a majority of board members support the enactment of a rule that would allow the board to set a standardized water rate for all county customers, regardless of by which water utility they are served.
The board will take up the matter again at its next meeting, Nov. 1, and likely will schedule a December public hearing.
The proposal follows a September recommendation by the county’s Consumer Protection Commission that the county exercise more control of water rates by setting a countywide rate. If another utility wanted to charge a higher rate to county residents than that charged by Fairfax Water — the county’s utility — it would have to demonstrate the need for the higher rate.
“We get that there are economies of scale,” said Director of Public Works and Environmental Services James Patteson, whose department would be tasked with evaluating the requests.
The Consumer Protection Commission issued its report after examining a proposed water rate increase in the City of Falls Church.
"We have shared our views with Fairfax County that the proposed ordinance is legally questionable and anti-competitive, and not in the best interests of our customers," said Falls Church Council member Lawrence Webb, who also is member of the Falls Church Public Utilities Commission.
The county has long been locked in a legal battle with the city regarding a host of water utility issues. However, the proposed action also could affect the water utilities in the City of Fairfax and the towns of Herndon and Vienna, which also serve customers in the county.
Vienna Mayor Jane Seeman said the town is asking the county to leave it out of this action, while also gathering more information about how the town would be affected.
“We serve the out-of-town customers because Fairfax Water cannot,” Seeman said. “This is something we’re kind of caught in the middle of.”
Some county board members expressed concern about the potential impacts on other jurisdictions.
“The problem with what we’re doing is … all the work that has been going on with this relates to Falls Church,” said Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock). “There is a catch-up as we’re trying to figure out how this applies to other jurisdictions.”
Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully) said he isn’t convinced a universal rate is the best way to go after Falls Church.
“I never set out to establish one rate,” Frey said. “I set out to resolve what I believe to be unfair practices.”
The supervisors who represent Falls Church water customers, on the other hand, say action urgently is needed. Falls Church increased its water rates in September using a rate study that the Consumer Protection Commission found did not substantiate the increase.
“There is an urgency here due to what we know about Falls Church water,” Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) said. “We as a board need to protect our residents.”