By. Neil Williamson, President
The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) Board of Directors meeting yesterday (9/28) played out more like high stakes poker game than a cooperative utility assembly. Charlottesville Tomorrow has the story in this morning’s Daily Progress.
A motion was made by Ken Boyd from Albemarle County to have the RWSA fund the design of a new 42 foot Ragged Mountain dam ($869,000). The board, made up of 3 Charlottesville representatives, 3 Albemarle representatives and 1 citizen representative, was deadlocked 3-3 (Albemarle for, Charlottesville opposed) on the motion. Rather than casting the deciding vote, the citizen representative, Mike Gaffney, asked for additional discussion.
In the additional discussion, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris suggested that he would be hard pressed to vote in opposition to the motion if City ratepayers were not paying for it. Then the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) Executive Director Gary O’Connell indicated that he could authorize paying the full cost of the design work for the first 30 days (up to $50,000) and would ask his Board of Directors if they would approve paying the balance of the contract in their next regular meeting October 21st. Based on the nods from the ACSA Board members present at the meeting and their previous public statements, it is assumed the ASCA Board will approve the request.
The original motion was retracted and the ACSA proposal passed unanimously.
The Free Enterprise Forum estimates that had the proposal gone forward under RWSA funding, the cost share for the dam design would have been 85% County, 15% City. Thus, if approved by the ACSA Board of Directors the additional cost to ACSA would be $138,850.
While 138 thousand dollars is a good amount of money, it seems like this “upping the ante” provides the Ragged Mountain Dam project with momentum to continue forward on an aggressive schedule.
But in a larger sense, when should we start to question the construct of the RWSA?
The City of Charlottesville, unhappy with the direction the approved community water supply plan funded additional studies to support a different approach, now Albemarle County (through the ACSA) is funding the design of a the approved water supply plan dam that the City has most recently only conditionally approved.
If the RWSA was created to coordinate local expenditures on water and wastewater and to accomplish this task the City and County find it necessary to use taxpayer/ratepayer dollars to fund studies and designs in an expensive game of poker, has the cooperative nature of the RWSA evaporated?
If so, how should we proceed from here? Should Albemarle County buy a reservoir from the City and build their own water treatment plant? Should the City Public Works take on dredging as a core government function?
If RWSA is worth saving, who will stand up as its champion?
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