Local Commentary

Editorial: Delay is a Bad Water Decision

On the face of it, the split-vote decision by the Falls Church City Council Monday to delay a sorely-needed water rate increase was a bad move. The vote delays the rate hike pending either an concurrence from the Fairfax Water System or a decree from the Fairfax Circuit Court that Falls Church is within its legal rights to increase its rates.

As Vice Mayor David Snyder and Council member Lawrence Webb pointed out Monday, being the only votes against the proposal, it is crystal clear that there is no prohibition against the City charging the rates required to maintain its water system. There was no reference to the matter in Judge Ney’s January 2009 ruling that ordered the City to no longer take a “return on investment” transfer from its water fund to its general fund.

So, we are baffled why Mayor Nader Baroukh and two others would vote to delay the rate increase, denying the City’s system the benefit of having the new rate in place by August, the one month of the year when revenues from water use is at its highest. The delay, itself, will place a further burden on the water system, and its users, to pay even more still for the maintenance and improvements the system needs.

The move only places the Falls Church system in harm’s way of another bad decision by the Fairfax Court. Why would the City subject itself to the potential of another wrong decision, when there is apparently no grounds for it, whatsoever?

In this case, if the court were somehow to find a pretext to deny Falls Church the right to charge for its water service what it takes to operate it (and we’re not saying it will, since we can’t imagine how it could), then there seems to be no way that Falls Church could continue to operate the system at all.

Now, here’s the rub: that outcome is exactly what a lot of very powerful people in Fairfax County want.

It has always been our view that certain interests in Fairfax, and we’re not sure exactly who, covet greatly the ability to get their ham-hands on the Falls Church system. And while there may be some noisy citizen-users of the system in Fairfax County who think the City should cough it up because of high rates, they in fact hardly stand to gain from such a move. While Falls Church rates may be higher than Fairfax’s now, that will quickly change if they get what they now think they want.

They fail to see, for example, that if the county, or a private entity, operated the system, they could legally hit customers for a very handsome “return on investment” surcharge since the system would be within their jurisdiction.

It is some very big, powerful interests who are behind the push for this outcome, ultimately to the detriment of all water users, residential and commercial alike, in the entire region.