HRSD no-show prompts Surry Board to delay vote

Published 1:41 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2016

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

SURRY — The Surry County Board of Supervisors met Thursday night to discuss a contract that would transfer control of the county’s sewers to Hampton Roads Sanitation District —but the evening ended with few definite answers to the Board’s questions about the contract.

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The hanging inquiries and lack of a vote were largely due to the noticeable absence of HRSD General Manager Ted Henifin, who failed to show up for the discussion, instead attending an Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors meeting that same night.

One aspect that was made clear to the Board at the Surry County meeting’s discussion is that the contract between the two entities still needs some tweaking.

Dendron District Representative Michael Drewry called the contract sent in by Henifin “very generic.” {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“There are little areas that could be tightened up just a bit,” said Drewry to County Attorney William Hefty. “Are they going to be amenable to those changes?”

Hefty said that Henifin had indicated he was willing to work with the county in order to “fine-tune” the contract with the county.

One of the areas Drewry mentioned could use some work was the contract’s termination clause, which states that the county would be required to repay HRSD the money they spent on the system should the county end the contract, but made no mention of restitution for property and equipment the county would hand over to HRSD, according to Drewry.

“And I think that’s a change they’d be willing to make,” said Hefty. “Which is to say that if we terminate the agreement we would get our original property back.”

Another concern about the contract raised by Drewry at the meeting was overall control of the system.

“Citizens have been concerned that in the future, if something goes wacky with the structure, how would you have local control,” said Drewry. “And my answer has been that possibly through subsidization of HRSD.

“I know Mr. Henifin is the gentleman to answer this, but I’m possibly wondering if we need something in the contract to indicate that we can do that and how.”

Hefty said he believed that there would be little difficulty in securing such an addition.

“They do have other communities that do subsidize sewer rates for other citizens, so it wouldn’t be the first time that that’s happened,” Hefty said. “The way that would work is we’d just make a payment to HRSD and they would apply that to the bills that they send out to the citizens.”

Billing rates also appeared to be unclear within the proposed contract, as Drewry questioned whether it was included in the rates presented to the county. The billing would include water, which would still be paid to the county.

“That money does not go to them, it goes to us,” said Hefty. “But it makes sense one bill rather than two.”

Hefty said HRSD would perform the billing for free.  

As for rates, the presumed 5,000 gallons per month would be $56.85, and the minimum 3,000 monthly gallons would be $34.11.

“The way they set rates is they take all their smaller communities on both sides of the river and sort of combine them into one rate,” Hefty said.

Surry County currently charges $39 for up to 3,000 gallons per month and $2.20 every thousand gallons more, coming to $43.40 a month for 5,000 gallons, a rate that hasn’t changed in the county in six years.

HRSD would also control any sewer billing increases, according to Hefty.

“We’ve estimated their increases would be approximately 9 percent a year,” said Hefty.

Hefty stressed that in order for the contact with HRSD to work, the town of Surry would also need to agree to transfer its sewers to HRSD. 

“It doesn’t work if the county approves it and the town doesn’t approve it because the systems need to work together,” Hefty said.

The town decided to wait to see what the county chooses to do, according to Hefty. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

A complication to this is an outstanding loan of $170,000 that the town has on its current sewer system, which would need to be paid off, according to Hefty.

“The town has indicated it does not have sufficient funds to pay that off and so one of the questions for the board of supervisors is whether you would be willing to pay off the town’s loan on their system in order to have this combined sewer system,” Hefty said.

The county also has two outstanding loans of its own, roughly $600,000 overall to the Virginia Resources Authority and Rural Development, according to Hefty.

“Both of those, if they consent to our transferring the property to HRSD, we would just continue to pay those loans until they are paid off, or you could decide to pay them off at the time you transfer the property to HRSD,” said Hefty.

Bacon’s Castle District Representative Judy Lyttle expressed her dissatisfaction with the contract as it is.   

“It just seems to me that we have some things that we need to get in order before I vote for the situation,” said Lyttle.  “There’s some upticks to the contract we have. Depending on what Mr. Henifin and Hampton Roads do. We don’t have a contract.”

Hefty said they would attempt to secure a revised contract that addressed the issues raised by Drewry before the next Board of Supervisor’s meeting in January.

Drewry also asked if they could hold another informational session with a public comment period before voting.

“It’d be helpful to me,” he said.

Board Chairman John Seward said that a public hearing could be held at the same meeting the board takes action on the contract.

“We’ll be able to move forward because we’ll have all the questions answered,” Seward said.  

County Administrator Tyrone Franklin said it seemed like a public hearing and vote for the February Board of Supervisors meeting would give all parties sufficient time to clear things up in the contract and get the word out.

“We can have Mr. Henifin at the January meeting,” said Hefty to the Board. “We can invite him to come.”  {/mprestriction}