EDITORIAL: Don’t Subsidize the County

September 19, 2013

Two weeks ago today, Cape Charles Town Council was supposed to discuss a proposed rate structure for commercial sewer customers on Route 13 and around Cheriton. Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek earlier said that determining a sewer rate would be “about a day’s work.” But no rate has yet been proposed, and Council’s work session was cancelled. It’s now clear that the sewer charge won’t be based on engineering calculations — it will be a political decision.

Cape Charles residents and businesses pay a minimum monthly sewer charge of $61. But County Administrator Katie Nunez doesn’t want commercial customers outside the Town to pay any more than an “affordable” rate of $45. Town officials bought into Mr. Panek’s reasoning that any additional sewer income would be “gravy,” since most of the costs of running the treatment plant are fixed, and not dependent on how much sewage is treated. So they initially were amenable to the $45 charge.

But try telling anyone who sells hamburgers in Cape Charles that they have to pay full rate to support the fixed costs of the sewer plant, while McDonald’s and Hardee’s will get a lower rate. It’s a politically indefensible argument, so it’s not surprising that Town officials now are scared to propose any rate. As a result, the public hearing set for Monday, September 23, at the County board room in Eastville will be almost farcical, since nobody knows what the rate will be.

It doesn’t take a month or even a day to calculate a rate structure for County sewer customers, because the calculation has already been done. If Town customers pay $61 a month, then County customers should pay $61 a month. Any less, and the Town is rewarding and encouraging businesses outside Town limits. Any more – well, forget that argument, because no County customer would tolerate a rate above $61 – even though Town Council member Joan Natali has publicly suggested that the Town could “make a profit” on providing sewer service to the County. [Read more…]

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