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Speakers object, but HCSA raises most users’ rates / December 26, 2012
Three residents offered a range of objections to proposed water and sewer rate adjustments that are scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1.

The speakers showed up for Thursday night’s public hearing by the Halifax County Service Authority, which was followed by the HCSA board unanimously approving the new rates.

The authority says the new rate structure will help to equalize rates that water and sewer customers pay around the county. Most of the new rates represent an increase for customers, although some users in some parts of the county — at with varying rates of usage — will see water or sewer rates decline.

Each speaker at the public hearing offered a different reason to oppose the rate hikes.

Cynthia Hall, a resident of Wilkerson Street in South Boston, came armed with evidence to prove her point. Displaying four bottle of various shades of brown water, which she said came from her spigot, Hall told board members, “I never know what will come out.”

She quoted the Authority’s mission statement as calling for the provision of “a safe and dependable water supply.”

“This is not so dependable,” she said, lifting up a bottle of brown water. “I don’t think you should go up on my rates with quality like this.”

Hall said when the lines are flushed from time to time, that has helped for a while but the discoloration soon reappeared. “I don’t want you to go up on my water rates until I feel comfortable drinking the water.”

Hall was told that the old cast iron pipes — of which there are many in the Authority’s system — are the cause of the discoloration.

She was assured that her concerns would be addressed and she should see an improvement in the quality of her water.

A second speaker, Stanley Clark, also a resident of the Town of South Boston, said he had believed when the Authority was formed several years ago that rates would be lower since there were more customers coming in to support the system.

“I had three children (living at home when the Authority was formed), he said “and now they’re gone, but the water rates are still the same.”

Clark told board members he had bought new water-saving commodes and had his house re-plumbed, but the rates remained the same. “When will they stop going up?” he asked.

Board member Coleman Speece, who has been an HCSA director since its inception, said the Authority is working toward rate equalization which will take ten years to complete. Speece explained that water rates for in-town South Boston customers have historically been the lowest of all those for Authority customers – about one-half of the rates paid by out-of-town customers — and as the board works toward equalizing rates, those for in-town customers will have to rise while rates for out-of-town customers will drop.

“And as an in-town South Boston customer, my rates will go up as well as yours. But we did what we felt was best for the whole area and for attracting industrial prospects,” Speece said.

Authority Director Willie Jones added that in order to secure grant money (the Authority got a $10 million grant and borrowed another $5 million from Rural Development) to expand and renovate the South Boston Maple Avenue wastewater treatment plant, rates had to be increased.

Mrs. Hall asked how long the Authority would be indebted to Rural Development and its requirements. “For another 39 years,” Jones responded, noting that the interest rate on the $5 million loan was only 2-1/2 percent.

Steve Salley, the third speaker of the night, questioned board members about the outlook for the Halifax sewer plant. He was told that plans called for sewage from that facility to be pumped back into the South Boston wastewater plant.

Salley mentioned that he had talked with Jones and HCSA Board Chairman Dexter Gilliam about problems he is encountering with a sewer line that runs across his property, but has not gotten answers to his questions. He was advised that the Authority is working on a solution to his problem.

Prior to the public hearing, board members approved the steps necessary for the extension of new water and sewer mains by private developers. The process makes clear who has to do what — the developer and the Authority — and in what order the steps must be completed.

The board also adopted a policy on refunding deposits, stating that refunds of deposits would only be made for two reasons — the first being the closure of an existing account.

Second, refunds will only be made after a good payment history has been established. A good history was defined as a property owner’s having three years of good payment history (18 consecutive billing cycles) with no disruptions of service for non-payment of fees and two or fewer nonconsecutive payments that were late.

At that point, the Authority will apply the existing deposits towards the customer’s account. For those who rent, it will require five years of good history with three or fewer late payments and no disconnections for nonpayment.

Board members also discussed plans for implementing pay and advancement plans for employees which was presented by the Personnel committee.

Those plans were brought forth following last month’s strategic planning session to encourage and retain the department’s personnel.

Three board members — Stewart Nelson, Thomas Walton and Frank Wray — were absent from the meeting.

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