Fairfax City reconsiders sale of water system -- Gazette.Net


The Fairfax City Council again is considering the future of the city’s water system and weighing a switch to water service provided by Fairfax Water, Fairfax County’s water utility.

About a year ago, the City Council looked at its water system and decided to remain in the water business. However, since that time, the financial calculations have evolved, said Mayor Scott Silverthorne.

“I think we have a fiduciary responsibility to bring this back before the citizens,” he said, even though “There is a real sense of civic pride in operating our own water system.”

The city sued the county last year due to the county’s attempt to regulate water rates, and the potential deal that the City Council is now considering was the result of federal mediation that was part of the legal action.

The city would pay about $39 million to buy into Fairfax Water service but would sell assets of roughly equivalent value to Fairfax Water in order to raise the money needed for that fee, City Manager Robert Sisson said.

Switching to Fairfax Water will stabilize and ultimately lower water rates for city residents, Silverthorne and Sisson said, due in part to the economies of scale that Fairfax Water enjoys, due to its size.

Fairfax Water is already the largest water utility in the state, and it recently reached an agreement with the City of Falls Church to unite those water systems.

In addition, in the long term, the city will need to make major repairs to major systems like dams.

“Over the next 20-25 years it becomes extremely costly for a small city to operate our system,” Silverthorne said.

The city also is facing a declining customer base due, in part, to competition from Fairfax Water, which has lower rates.

One of the city’s major water customers, Loudoun County, is working to construct its own treatment plant. The city was also struggling to keep George Mason University as a customer, Silverthorne said.

If the agreement moves forward, City of Fairfax residents can expect their water bills will go down and will not increase as much each year.

City customers have been seeing annual increases of about 7 percent each year, as opposed to 3 percent on average for Fairfax Water customers.

The City Council has scheduled two public meetings about the proposal and will also be accepting testimony about the plan for the next five City Council meetings. The council is expected to vote on whether to adopt the proposal April 9.

The public meetings at the Sherwood Community Center will be at 7 p.m. March 21 and at 9 a.m. April 6.