IW water use may be mandated if available

Published 7:12 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Ordinance already in place

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Property owners who have spent thousands of dollars installing private wells in Isle of Wight County may now be required to pay thousands more to hook up to the county’s water system.

An existing county ordinance requires that all properties located near county waterlines connect to them within one year of being notified of their availability. Residents who have received notification of a new waterline alongside their property might not be aware of the mandated connection however, because the county’s notification doesn’t state that, according to Director of Utility Services Don Jennings.

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“I have a feeling that all these letters went in the trash can,” Jennings said of the county notifications at a Board of Supervisors work session Thursday.

The verbiage of the notice was adopted in 2005, according to Jennings, and merely informs residents that a new waterline is “abutting” the homeowner’s property, but does not specify that hooking up to it is mandatory. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

At the work session, Jennings asked that the Board begin the process of dealing with the mandatory connection ordinance, deciding whether it wants to proceed with it, and how.

If enforced, it’s still unclear how many residences would be affected, according to Jennings, but it would encompass all existing county water lines.

Jennings said the county could re-issue the notification letters to residents near waterlines who have not connected, clarifying this time around that their connection is mandatory within a year.

“That’s definitely going to be an unpopular action,” said Jennings, but he noted that it would keep the county in compliance with its current code.

The county’s connection fee is currently $4,000.

According to Kate Cunningham with Christian and Pugh Well Drilling Service, the cost of installing a private well can vary anywhere from about $6,000 to $10,000.

According to the county’s ordinance, if a single-family residential homeowner applies to connect to the waterline within the first 90 days of receiving the notification letter, the tap fee is reduced by half, with the option of a bimonthly payment plan over a two-year period, with an interest rate of 8 percent.

Jennings said that in his opinion, the payment plan could be made available to everyone, not just those who apply within 90 days.

The reduction is only available to residential units, but could potentially be applied to businesses as well, according to Jennings.

Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson said he is opposed to the idea of mandatory connections, and that the county needs to consider people who have developed private wells at their properties at great expense.

“People don’t sit around and wait for the county to bring a waterline to them,” said Jefferson. “If they’ve got a home, they’ve got to have water.”

“I think we need to go very slow with this,” he said of considering the ordinance.

Isle of Wight County’s utility division has struggled financially in the years since signing the controversial 40-year Norfolk water deal, with the county having to pay for far more water than its customer base consumes each year, resulting in one of the highest water rates in the region.

The utilities division is subsidized by the county’s general fund to cover its annual losses. Last year that subsidy was $3.8 million.

A solution county officials have been eyeing to pull the division out of the red is the acquisition of more water customers.

“In order for us to get out of the hole we are in, we need to increase our customer base,” said Jennings at the work session.

The county is currently in the early stages of implementing a new waterline on Route 10, extending from Benn’s Grant and southward toward Suffolk, which Jennings said would spur the notification letter process once again.

The waterline would cross in front of 45 individual parcels, according to Jennings, which would generate about $90,000 in tap fees at the reduced rate.

“That would offset the construction costs,” said Jennings, but raises the question of whether to impose mandatory connections.

The new waterline is being implemented as a backup should the county’s line along Route 17, which is depended upon to deliver water to the county’s Newport Developmental Service District, experience a malfunction.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty suggested adding more incentive to hooking up with the county’s water systems, such as eliminating the 8 percent interest in the two-year payment plan, provided that the homeowner begins using the water when connected.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree said the elephant in the room was the cost of the water, and said imposing it along Route 10 would be tough, being so close to the town of Smithfield, whose water customers pay a significantly lower rate than county water customers.

Acree said in a later phone interview that coupling water with sewer might add more incentive to connect to the water systems.

County Administrator Randy Keaton said that the county could work on the notification letters and see if it could add more incentive to go for more of a “carrot versus a stick approach” to hooking up to county water systems.

Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice championed not imposing mandatory connections on residents who currently own a well, but requiring the connection if the title to the property is ever transferred.

“There is a point in time when it has to be mandatory,” said Grice.

McCarty said if he was the purchaser and learned that he would need to close up the well and connect to the waterline, he would look elsewhere for a home.

Grice said he understood that, but “at some point in time, there has to be a line drawn in the sand.”  {/mprestriction}