Third-party to study utility rate structure in Warsaw
John Slusser, Warsaw town manager
Facing significant projected deficits in their water and sewer budget, officials from Warsaw have contracted with an independent consultant to come up with solutions that will least impact the local tax base.
“Due to a loss of users and decreased usage, we have lost about 15 percent of our income,” said Town Manager John Slusser in a March 1 interview. “Currently we expect to be down about $60,000 to $70,000 for the fiscal year.”
For the town, that amounts to a 15 percent decrease in the water and sewer budget and the need to find alternative ways to supplement that loss.
That is where consultant Draper Aden, a civil engineering firm out of Richmond, has come into play.
After looking at current rate structures for both commercial and residential, Warsaw officials researched different options to make the rates fair to consumers while making up for the loss.
“The problem is so significant that the town felt it was in its best interests to engage Draper Aden … to review our financial situation, verify our numbers and offer proposed solutions,” Slusser said in a Feb. 22 letter to the town’s largest user, the Northern Neck Regional Jail, adding that all findings would be shared with the public.
“This big thing is that this is a significant problem and challenge that the town is facing.” Slusser said Friday. “Public perception is most important. If they don’t have confidence in my numbers and they feel that there were problems that were handled improperly, they lose confidence in their government and we don’t want that to happen so we called in a third party to act as an auditor.”
According to Slusser, the recent public debate between the town and jail over billing tiers and an alleged $30,000 outstanding jail bill that resulted from a broken meter play no part in the consultants’ hiring.
“The bill we submitted to the jail has nothing to do with this,” Slusser said. “This is 100 percent about rate structure, expenses and the budget as related to the wastewater treatment plant.”
He added that Draper is acting as independently from any involved parties.
“Their contract calls for three things a review, an assessment with proposed solutions and a presentation to council during a work session. “This will look at the rate structure for every user in town. This is not about the jail, but about everyone.”
Slusser added that the town wants to find the most affordable options, for all users and local tax payers, to ensure that no heavy burdens are shouldered by any one particular segment.
“What we are doing is getting as complete of a picture as possible in order for council to make the best decision for everyone involved,” he said.
Draper Aden is expected to present to council their findings during a March 5 workshop, with a public hearing soon following in order to ensure that citizens can weigh in on the “extremely important” issue.