Low-Income Residents in Bayview Face $100 Water Bills

Alice Coles, head of Bayview Citizens for Social Justice, is relieved that Northampton County is taking over the water and sewer system — but worried that residents won’t be able to pay.

Cape Charles Wave

July 19. 2012

After 10 years of negotiations, recriminations and deterioration, Northampton County finally owns the Bayview water and sewer systems. That means 71 low-income households will be charged about $104 per month for service — a price many likely can’t afford.

“We will shut down service if we are not paid,” said Northampton County Administrator Katie Nuñez. “It’s not pleasant and we don’t want to do it. But for the past six years the county has been paying for that system.”

Nuñez said that between 2009 and 2011, Northampton taxpayers subsidized the Bayview operation to the tune of $117,350. Bayview Citizens for Social Justice (BCSJ) will be forgiven $35,000 in delinquent real estate taxes in exchange for ownership or easements on five key parcels.

Alice Coles, executive director of BCSJ, is both relieved and disturbed by the transaction.

“The county was supposed to take over the system 30 days after it was built, by signed agreement,” said Coles. “But we ended up being responsible for it. We had no one trained to run the equipment. The systems began to fail.”

Since 1998, BCSJ has received $11 million in grants and loans to replace the shacks and outhouses that once characterized the neighborhood. They bought 160 acres near Cheriton, and built roads, houses, a laundromat, offices, and a community center.

In 2002, BCSJ got $1.7 million in state and federal money to build some roads and a sewer system for 94 units. Operating costs were supposed to come from monthly payments by the users.

For those units that received Section 8 assistance, utilities were included in the rent. But for the 23 households not government controlled, the situation was quite different.

“They made efforts to pay,” said Coles. “But most were delinquent.”

One smaller drainfield failed — possibly because trucks were parking on the site — with human waste rising to the surface. That was fixed with a $25,000 grant from the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project. A tank in the water plant also had to be replaced.

In 2006 county staff began maintaining the system.

“Here’s the catch,” said Nuñez. “Because we were not the owners or really the operators of the system, we could not collect any income. So we weren’t getting paid for the work.”

Nuñez said the grant documents were vague as to how to transfer the system. And it was difficult to take ownership of some portions of Bayview when they were closely knit with other parts of the project.

“It took us some time to get a document that all parties would sign,” she said.

Nuñez estimates it will cost the county $89,519 annually to run the Bayview water and sewer system. Eventually, the flat fees will be replaced by meter readings and a rate schedule.

Both Nuñez and Coles are concerned about possible displacement of the poor people that Bayview was built to house.

“Only a handful will make it,” said Coles.

Nuñez wasn’t much more hopeful.

“There will end up being a great deal of interaction with the Housing Authority to relocate the people, or get more rental assistance,” she said.

Green parcels are now owed by the county. The beige portions are easements for a reserve drainfield, pipes and a road to access the drainfield.



One Response to “Low-Income Residents in Bayview Face $100 Water Bills”

  1. Stu Morecraft on February 5th, 2013 4:26 pm

    1. Why $89,519 annual to run Bayview water & sewer, is that the salary of a maintenance engineer and clerical staff for billing? Over $100 per month, per household is unreasonable.

    2. Can ownership of the system remain the citizens of Bayview, and have members of the community trained on how to run and maintain it?

    3. Has Northampton county now taken ownership of the Bayview water & sewer system, if so, they should run and maintain it using funds collected from the entire county. The county has turned its back on Bayview since the beginning of time, can’t members of the entire county pay an extra few pennies each in order to provide Bayview with these basic human services?

    4. How is the rest of Bayview progressing? Is their agricultural cooperative market producing enough harvest to have a promotional sale each year to cover the cost of water & sewer? If word can spread, I’m sure people along the entire east coast will bay more than market value to support this annual crop.

    5. Are their any “deep pocket” samaritans willing to set up a trust for Bayview Water & Sewer?

    This community has empowered themselves, against all odds, and it will be a shame if the original members are forced out anyway because they can’t afford clean water & sewer – which was part of the original problem.

    I’m a student at NC State studying Architecture in the Public Interest, and I read the article by Maurice Cox published in Bryan Bell’s book Good Deeds, Good Design. I was curious as to how Bayview is doing now, which led me to Ms. Davis article above. Please provide me with contact information with Ms. Coles if possible (or give her my contact information – the Bayview Citizens for Social Justice website did not seem to be operational). I’m not sure I can do anything to help, but I will present the situation to my class for

    Stu Morecraft
    [email protected]

    (Lots of good questions here — is there a knowledgable reader who can provide some answers? This story appeared last July, and the reporter is no longer writing for the WAVE. Anyone with information may post it here, or send it directly to Mr. Morecraft at his email address above. -EDITOR)