An inefficient water and sewage system and years of operating the city’s enterprise fund in the red are two of the reasons why Manassas Park residents will likely see their water bills increase by more than $30 each month.
Residential and commercial customers could see the increase as soon as the June billing period if Manassas Park City Council approves the hike in May, City manager James “Jim” Zumwalt said Wednesday.
City officials said the increase is necessary and outlined the reasons for it in a video presentation to City Council on Tuesday night. The video will air on the city’s public access channel at 10 a.m. and at 7 p.m. every day until Tuesday so residents can be educated about the utility system.
Manassas Park’s enterprise fund is run like a business and is separate from the city’s general fund which pays for things like schools, police and the city’s debt service.
The enterprise was able to operate at a deficit for years because it relied on the million of dollars in one-time tap fees generated by new construction in the city, Zumwalt said.
When the recession set in new construction ceased and those tap fees dried up, he said.
“We now have to increase our rates. You can’t keep operating an essential service in the red,” Zumwalt said.
There was a small rate increase in 2008—the first one in 13 years—but it wasn’t enough, city officials said.
If the rates hadn’t increase in 2008, the city would have been in a far worst situation, Zumwalt said.
If the rate increase is approved by council, then commercial users can expect to see their rates increase by 32 percent each month.
The average residential customer will see an increase of a little more than a dollar a day in their water and sewage bills, city public works director James “Jay” Johnson said.
Residential customers who don’t use much water will see a smaller increase, Johnson said.
A town hall meeting on the rate adjustment is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the community room at the
Residents can come, ask questions and voice their concerns. If residents bring their current water bills to the meeting, public works staff will calculate each customer's projected increase.
City officials said the rate increase is also needed to pay for the city’s utilities bonds which are due to increase in Fiscal Year 2016 by some $1 million.
The city’s has utility bond payments because it borrowed money to buy water rights from Manassas City and the Service Authority of Prince William County, Zumwalt said.
The city also has to chip on the Upper Occoquan Service Authority’s (UOSA) bonds.
Manassas Park owns a little more than 5 percent of UOSA. The rest is owned by Manassas, Prince William and Fairfax Counties.
Manassas Park has to pay UOSA some $1.5 million this year for its bonds, Zumwalt said.
That amount will increase by $100,000 every year until it reaches a plateau, he said.
City staff said the inefficiencies in the city’s aging water and sewage systems also attribute to the need for a rate increase.
The city is losing some of the water it buys from Manassas City and Service Authority of Prince William County which purchases its water from Fairfax County.
In the last year, public works crews, which are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, fixed some of the leaks, Zumwalt said.
“The dollar impact of that improvement is in the order of $150,000 a year,” Zumwalt said. “It remains a very real problem but it’s only half as bad as it was when Jay (Johnson) started.”
The public works department has to prevent too much rain water from coming through the sewage pipes which flow to UOSA, a sewage treatment facility.
The more sewage that UOSA has to deal with, the higher the sewage bills, Zumwalt said.
The city is interested in repairing and maintaining the sewage system so that residents aren’t charged more, city officials said.