By. Neil Williamson, President
On May 24, 2010, the Greene County’s Board of Supervisors held a special meeting which the Free Enterprise Forum called a “Secret Public Meeting”. The purpose of the meeting was to enact a Water Service Area and mandate new homes constructed within the service area hook up to public water and sewer. The new code chapter was made effective immediately and a public hearing to be held within sixty days of the action.
Interestingly, on May 24th, the Board also took action regarding the Greene County Water and Sewer Service Area Policy and revisions to the zoning and subdivision ordinance [revised 7/06/10 6:15 pm, the County placed separate legal ads for the two ordinances] that are not up for public hearing according to the legal notice published in The Greene County Record (July 1, 2010).
With the ordinance available for review and the public hearing now scheduled for July 13th, the Free Enterprise Forum has serious concerns with the language in the Water and Sewer Service Area Policy and the Ordinance revisions.
The Policy reads in part:
Reliable public water and sewer service is essential to the welfare of many Greene County residents and businesses and is a key element in future sustainable growth within the County. The provisions of these services is limited by water availability and the public water and sewer infrastructure. To address these considerations, the policy herein promulgated establishes the area in the County where public water and sewer services will be nominally available.
Most localities (including Greene until May 24th) specify a maximum distance from a water main or sewer line that a property owner would be mandated to hook up. The Greene County ordinance reads “nominal” in terms of distance.
West’s Encyclopedia of American Law defines Nominal as:
Trifling, token, or slight; not real or substantial; in name only.
Nominal capital, for example, refers to extremely small or negligible funds, the use of which in a particular business is incidental.
The obvious question left by this enigmatic reference is nominal to whom? The County may judge the cost of extending a water pipe and sewer line over a half mile to reach the main to be “not real or substantial” or it may not, the ordinance is not clear on this issue.
Public water and sanitary sewer hookup is mandatory for new construction within the Water and Sewer Service Area (WSSA) in accordance with these 16-17 regulations, unless the Greene County Board of Supervisors, in consultation with the Rapidan Service Authority (RSA) find that the capacity of the public water and/or sewerage system is inadequate to serve the proposed development.
What of developments that have already been developed [streets and curbs in] with water only hook ups? A strict interpretation of this language would prohibit Greene County from issuing a building permit for any structure not hooked up to both water and sewer. We have heard from one applicant that there is some significant confusion on the implementation of this facet of the ordinance.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes the intent of the policy is geared toward new home construction but as written, if one chooses to add a deck to an existing home within the water service area, one could be mandated to tie in to the water system. While this is not the intent of the ordinance such sloppiness should be expected when such legislation is rushed.
Greene County made a significant investment in the water treatment facility and is actively pursuing additional community water supply sources. Based on this investment, and the repayment of debt required, it is clear that Greene County needs to mandate water hookups within the service area or the taxpayers (rather than the ratepayers) will be saddled with the debt.
There is a middle ground available to Greene County, constructing a mandated hook up policy built on the concept of volume and distance would be a good start. In addition, the policy should recognize (and provide credits) for over sizing infrastructure that in turn provides revenue opportunity for the authority by increasing the authority’s capacity.
Mandating water hook ups for new residential construction increases the cost of development and this cost will be passed on directly to the new home buyer.
Such a mandate alone would be a challenge regardless of process but considering the non public manner this language was developed, one can’t be surprise by the output.
It reminds me of the old saying, “If you don’t have time to do It right, when will you find time to do it over?”
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org