Water Authority Proposed

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, June 2, 2011

FARMVILLE – Creating a water and sewer authority will be unveiled Friday, June 3, as the potential long-term answer for the Town of Farmville and Prince Edward County.

An authority could be regarded as the ultimate act of cooperation between the governing bodies, whose decision would create an entity empowered with the responsibility of providing for the water and sewer needs of the Town of Farmville and Prince Edward County.

With an authority, Prince Edward County would not build its own separate water treatment plant and water system. The County would not get in the water business and the Town would get out of the water business. Water and sewer would cease to be a political football.

A Special Joint Meeting between the Board of Supervisors and Town Council has been called for 11 a.m. on Friday, with the public notice from the County stating “the purpose of the Special Joint Meeting is the announcement of a conceptual community water solution for Prince Edward County and the Town of Farmville.”

No details were provided by the one-paragraph notice but during Town Council's June work session on Wednesday Town Manager Gerald Spates, who has been directly engaged in discussions with County Administrator Wade Bartlett, told council members, “It's really a solution to the whole water and sewer issue. You know the County wants to be able to control their own destiny. This takes it out of both governing bodies. Basically, what (we're) talking about is looking at the possibility of setting up an authority to deal with the water and sewer issue.”

That would be the concept, with many details to be worked out during continued negotiations between the Town and County. Informal talks between a few Town and County officials have occurred during the past few months. The conceptual product of those discussions will be announced Friday.

“There's a whole lot of mechanics that have to be worked out” in setting up an authority, said Spates.

The authority would be based on using the Town's existing water treatment plant-along with the Town's experienced award-winning workers-and connecting it by pipeline from the Sandy River Reservoir, rather than the County, or the authority, building a new, separate water treatment plant at the reservoir.

An authority could purchase the water treatment plant and waterlines from the Town of Farmville-providing the revenue-challenged Town with a major financial windfall-and construction of the reservoir pipeline and any upgrades to the Town's water treatment plant would be paid for by the authority-not by county or town taxpayers. The authority would have the legal ability to borrow money, paying the loan back through revenue from water and sewer customers.

Those not using the water system, therefore-residents in Prospect or Darlington Heights and elsewhere, for example-would not pay for the project's cost. Town and County tax revenues would not-repeat, would not-be invested in the project under such an authority arrangement.

An authority would be expected to extend water lines out from the Town system into the County as specific needs arose for those lines-when there were actual customers identified who wanted and requested them, such as a new business committed to locate in the county-rather than extend water lines speculatively.

“I think it's evident that one of the big concerns, if you've attended any of the (County's district water) meetings that they've had is that the public wants us to work with the County to come up with a solution,” Spates told council members, regarding the proposed water authority. “And I think this is the way to meet with the County and come up with the solution.”

The approximately $2 million spent by the County for engineering plans regarding an intake at the reservoir and a pipeline to Farmville as part of its own possible water system would not be wasted because the water authority could use that information for the intake and pipeline it would build.

The informal discussions that have led to Friday's meeting have been frank and there were, not unexpectedly, a few bumps along the road.

“I'm not going to say that we didn't have any issues between Wade and myself in working on getting this thing worked out but I think everything now is…working out.”

Spates noted that Town Clerk Lisa Hricko was at the most recent meeting, that morning, and she told council members, “I thought it went well.”

“So,” Spates said, “we'll see what happens on Friday.”

This will be just a presentation, council member Dr. Edward I. Gordon asked, “of what you all have been talking about? Will there be voting taking place?”

“No, it's not going to be any voting,” Spates said. “Basically it's to bring you up to date. I guess, if somebody wants to tell us to stop negotiations, they're not in favor of it, or proceed the way we're going. I think eventually everybody's going to have to be involved in the whole process.”

There won't necessarily be any action taken by the Board of Supervisors or Town Council during Friday's meeting. “That's up to council and to the board,” Spates said, adding, “I guess it wouldn't be a bad idea if you approved the concept and tell us to proceed with working out the details. There's a lot of details that have to be worked out. It's not going to be done in 30 days.”

Spates said, “I'm sure we've got people who are going to have questions and they've (the board of supervisors) got some people that have questions. And the public's going to have questions.”

Dr. Gordon had a question and asked Spates about the informal discussions. “Who's been talking?” he asked.

“Me and Wade,” Spates answered.

“And David was in on a meeting with Buckie,” Spates said of council member David E. Whitus and Board of Supervisors Chairman William G. “Buckie” Fore, “at Buckie's request…

“…But really it's just been Wade and myself,” Spates said. “The meeting we had the other day was Wade, myself, and all three engineers. That was interesting.”

So, Dr. Gordon said, what is being presented on Friday is “what you and Wade think is a good starting point for a proposal.”

“Right,” Spates answered. “And there's a lot of details that have to be worked out.”

And, Dr. Gordon continued, “we're going to see whether the County likes it and whether we like it.”

“Right,” Spates again answered.

“Whether to proceed,” Dr. Gordon said.

“Right,” Spates said.

And, Tommy Pairet added, “the purpose of this meeting is to make this information public.”

“Yes,” Spates replied, adding the public would have a chance to comment upon and question any proposal.

Prior to Town Council's work session on Wednesday morning, Spates had responded to a question from The Herald by saying, “I'm very optimistic” heading into Friday's meeting. “We've (he and Bartlett) been talking together for a couple of weeks.”

Board of Supervisors chairman Fore shares Spates' optimism.

“As you are aware,” Fore responded to The Herald on Wednesday afternoon, “while the work has been ongoing with Crowder Construction Company on the interim agreement, negotiations between the County and Town have continued in order to seek a win-win solution to our community water issue.

“I am excited that we have reached a point at which a concept can be presented to both the council and the board,” Fore continued, when asked for his thoughts heading into Friday's meeting. “Though there are a myriad of details to work out, I believe this concept is a great start and I look forward to Friday's joint meeting with optimism.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the county administrator and the town manager for their diligence,” he concluded, “as I know that they, along with several other individuals, have spent many hours on this issue.”

(The meeting will be held in the South Street Conference Center, behind the county courthouse)