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F.C. Likes ‘Tone’ of New Letter From Fairfax, Says Will Talk

In an apparent change of heart, City of Falls Church officials responded positively yesterday to the latest letter from the Fairfax Water Authority, suggesting that face-to-face meetings to resolve the long-standing dispute over the embattled Falls Church Water System may take place soon.

Philip Allin, the chair of the Fairfax County Water Authority, issued his latest missive to the City of Falls Church by way of its Mayor Nader Baroukh late last week, reiterating his authority’s proposal for a merger of the Fairfax and Falls Church systems and citing economic benefits that would accrue to Falls Church as a result.

Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields and Vice Mayor David Snyder both commented to the News-Press yesterday that they were encouraged by the “tone” of the letter and that moves toward an accord may occur.

In his letter, Allin noted that Snyder had conveyed to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair Sharon Bulova last month that “Fairfax Water has not offered any value for the (Falls Church) City system.” He wrote, “To the contrary, the financial benefits of Fairfax Water’s offer to the City and its water customers would be of substantial value.” (A copy of the letter was also forwarded to the News-Press).

Allin contended that with a merger, “Fairfax Water could reduce water rates to all your (Falls Church’s—ed.) existing customers by more than a third to the same level as our existing rates.” This would, he said, save the average Falls Church customer more than $100 a year in water charges.

By contrast, he claimed, selling the Falls Church system to a for-profit utility would like cause rates to increase by at least 11 percent over and above rate increases currently planned by the City.

In addition, he said a merger would save Falls Church customers $47 million in capital expenditures for infrastructure improvements, and an additional $30 to $50 million in expenditures for a second Potomac River crossing (noting the City currently relies on a single 36-inch transmission main). He also said in the event of a merger, Fairfax would offer long-term employment to the City’s existing water system employees.

He said that in the event of a merger, Fairfax “would also assume the City’s financial obligations to pay for future treatment-plant improvements at the (Washington) Aqueduct. We would welcome, for instance, the opportunity to help the Aqueduct develop a combined ozone and granular-activated carbon filtration system such as that employed at our two treatment plants to ensure the highest water quality and compliance with any future regulations.”

“Unifying our water systems is the right thing to do,” he wrote. “Such a union would…eliminate the root cause of the ongoing litigation and political divisiveness of the past decade,” concluding, “We would have no preconditions to a meeting and hope you see your way clear to at least discussing the possibilities with us.”

Falls Church City Manager Shields told the News-Press yesterday that the City plans to respond to the letter by setting up a meeting in the near future. “We appreciate the recent correspondence, although we won’t agree with everything in the letter,” he said. “In the meantime, we will continue our stewardship of our water system and to serve the best interests of our taxpayers and our water customers.”

F.C. Vice Mayor Snyder told the News-Press, “The tone of the letter is a positive step forward. We are interested in pursuing a win-win solution with the county.”

As recently as this Monday, the Falls Church City Council gave a preliminary OK Monday to deploy the lion’s share of a $1 million surplus in its current fiscal year water fund revenues to engage ongoing legal battles with the Fairfax Water Authority over the disposition of the embattled Falls Church Water System.

The surplus $1 million came from more than expected revenues from charges for services, according to a report from City Manager Wyatt Shields. It does not include a larger surplus in Falls Church’s overall general fund revenues for Fiscal Year 2012 of more than $3.6 million that the Council is expected to allocate in the coming months.

The ordinance OKd Monday to deploy the $1 million water fund surplus for Fiscal Year 2012, along with $327,000 in general fund revenues, passed by a 4-0 vote (3 Council members were absent) and awaits final approval on June 25.

Vice Mayor Snyder said the move was needed “to protect the City’s ability to deliver quality water service to its customers,” a phrase that was seconded by City Attorney John Foster.