News

Fairfax Co. Demands Falls Church Pay Back for Water ‘Overcharges’

Seeks $127,877 for 3 Years, Citizens Could Also File

A letter from Fairfax County Manager Anthony Griffin to his City of Falls Church counterpart, Wyatt Shields, sent late last month called for the City to refund to the county $127,877 in overcharges for water and interest, the News-Press has learned.

By state statute, such recovery efforts can cover only up to three years, and Griffin’s letter called for refunds for 2007, 2008 and 2009, based on the differential between the water rate charged to Fairfax County customers by the Fairfax Water System and that charged by the City of Falls Church’s water system.

According to Fairfax County Supervisor Penny Gross, the typical Fairfax County customer paus $85.19 quarterly to the City for water service, whereas a customer of Fairfax Water pays about $50.97 for the same service. In her column in this week’s edition of the News-Press (see elsewhere in this edition), she notes that 92 percent of the City’s customers are in Fairfax County.

A statement from Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields issued late yesterday says the City “is weighing several options” in response to Fairfax County’s “unprecedented demand.”

“The County claims are unusual and disappointing,” Shields said in the statement. “The City will protect the interests of its taxpayers, and evaluate these claims very carefully to determined if they have any validity. In the meantime, the City’s principal focus will remain on providing excellent water utility service at a reasonable price to its customers in the City and Fairfax County.”

In an interview with the News-Press yesterday, Gross said that the $127,877 being sought by the county is only for county governmental use of Falls Church water, and she said that inquiries from individual citizens she’s received at her Mason District office indicate that some individual citizens may also seek refunds.

Two Northern Virginia attorneys issued an e-mail advisory this week announcing a telephone press conference today “to discuss efforts to recover excess water charges Fairfax County residents served by the Falls Church water system have been paying to the City.” They state that they “will also discuss the City’s response to their demand that the excess charges be refunded to one of their clients and other persons similarly situated.”

Gross told the News-Press that Griffin’s letter to Shields resulted from a discussion on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in November about options for redress in the aftermath of the legal process that left the City liable for water funds it had directed as “returns on investment” to its general fund.

Ironically, Griffin was the City Manager of Falls Church in the 1980s, and was a City resident for many years. According to Gross, Griffin and Shields have also spoken on the phone about the matter.

The Griffin letter, which was shared with the county board at its Dec. 7 meeting, asked for a reply from Shields by Dec. 6, but Shields had written back that such a deadline was “unrealistic and unreasonable.” He said the City would need more time to look over the claim, and to verify the county’s numbers.

The county claim is for $105,576 in alleged overcharges and $22,300 in interest, set at 10 percent according to the state code.

Gross also noted that individual constituents in Fairfax County who are users of Falls Church water can only seek refunds for the overcharges dating back to 2007, and that is if they take action by Dec. 31. She said that one constituent told her he wanted a refund for 40 years, which is not legally possible.

She also has told constituents that no overcharges can be found on sewer rates, because even though they appear on bills from Falls Church, they are set by the county.

The Falls Church City Council held a closed session with legal counsel to discuss matters pertaining to the City’s water system this Monday, although no further details of that meeting are available.