The state's largest water utility has made Fairfax City a new offer — and now council members are turning to residents and business owners again to see how they feel about joining Fairfax Water.
The council will have until April 9 to make a decision.
This isn't the first time Fairfax Water approached the City of Fairfax. Water became a campaign issue in 2012, with council members and the public split on the best route for the city.
If the city goes all in, selling its water system piping and property within the city limits and opting for full service with Fairfax Water, residents and business owners could start to see savings in three years.
Currently, Fairfax City operates its own water and sewer services serving over 8,000 city customers and 3,000 county customers.
Some of those customers are within city limits; others are in Loudoun County, where the city's water facilities, Goose Creek Water Treatment Plant and Beaverdam Creek Reservoir, are located.
In fiscal year 2012, Fairfax City's water system generated about 17 million in revenue, according to the adopted 2012 budget. It spent just about as much.
While there "is a sense of civic pride and emotional attachment to the city maintaining its own water system," Mayor Scott Silverthorne said this weekend, there are also several issues it's no longer able to ignore.
Over the last 50 years, Fairfax City has seen a shrinking customer base for its water system. Now Fairfax City water stands to lose Loudoun County, a large part of its customer base, when the county is finished building its own treatment plant in four or five years. This will result in higher water rates for Fairfax City customers.
The new offer is still being negotiated. Council members wouldn't detail how it changed since the prior offer in early 2012, but said that the proposed rates for city water customers had improved.
A deal with Fairfax Water would also let the city avoid a $45 million upgrade to the city's water facilities in Loudoun County to meet federal standards.
The savings, including lower water bills and no longer needing to upgrade the water system, is equivalent to taking 10 cents off the real estate tax, council member Dan Drummond said.
Fairfax City's water system also faces another expensive treatment cost, about $84 million, in 2033. With its customer base on the decline, city water customers would carry the burden of paying for these upgrades and repairs.
Water costs at a glance:
- The average city customer pays a water rate of $4.61 per 1,000 gallons with city water. Fairfax Water's average rate is $2.51.
- After Fairfax's $45 million upgrade and the loss of Loudoun as a customer, the average annual cost of city water for residents will increase to $894. Commercial customers will pay on average $6,528 per year.
- Fairfax Water's average annual cost for residents is $340.
- Fairfax Water's average annual cost for commercial customers is $2,481.
"We're asking the public to put aside the emotion and look at sheer magnitude of expense that will be facing the city over the next several decades. We want to do the responsible thing and fix this once and for all working with Fairfax Water," Silverthorne said.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance in December 2011 ordering the Fairfax City water system, along with Falls Church, Vienna and Herndon, to charge the same or similar water rates as customers within the city limits. Fairfax City responded by suing the county.
That lawsuit is now put on hold while Fairfax Water and city officials negotiate the new offer.
"It's about putting money back into people's pockets and stable pricing in the future," Drummond said. "It's about today, but also about 20 years from now."
City officials plan to meet with residents and business owners and hold public hearings on this topic up until they make a decision on April 9.
Public meetings will be held:
- March 21: 7 p.m. Sherwood Community Center
- April 6: 9 a.m. Sherwood Community Center
City customers will receive a mailer with information on the new Fairfax Water offer Tuesday. Information on the topic will also be available at www.fairfaxva.gov/water.