Town Council Mulls Fees for County Sewer Service

Cape Charles Wave

September 27, 2013

Two days after Northampton County Board of Supervisors voted to put on hold any plans for a sewer pipeline to Cape Charles, the Cape Charles Town Council convened a work session to discuss how much to charge County customers for services the County does not appear to want.

The work session originally was scheduled for September 5, but was postponed until September 25 to occur after two meetings were held in the County, where dozens of speakers vociferously voiced their opposition to a special sewer district that would almost double their taxes plus entail an unknown monthly sewer charge.

The Town Council work session might yet have a purpose, however, since some observers have noted that even though the Board of Supervisors tabled further consideration of a special sewer district, they can easily reverse their decision following the November election.

But even after Wednesday’s work session, it’s still unclear how much County customers might have to pay Cape Charles for sewer service.

Some clarity did emerge at the work session – most importantly, recognition that treating sewage from out of town might kill any remaining hope of getting the developers of Bay Creek to contribute to the cost of future sewer expansion.  Town staff was asked to seek a legal opinion on how a deal with the Public Service Authority might affect the Town’s Annexation Agreement with Bay Creek.

Councilman Mike Sullivan emphasized that he was certainly not willing to see the Town sacrifice $5 million [from Bay Creek] for plant expansion in order to get $80,000 a year from the PSA [for sewage treatment].

Among Council members, only Bay Creek resident Joan Natali was opposed to seeking legal advice on the question. “I don’t know why we need to make that decision now,” she said.

Councilman Frank Wendell suggested that the PSA should pay the cost of a legal opinion rather than the Town.


Town Council also appeared to be in agreement that County customers should pay sewer connection charges, just as Town residents pay. PSA chairman Bob Panek (who also is assistant Town manager) has maintained that new County customers should be exempt from connection charges.

Council members also agreed in principle that businesses outside of town should not pay lower sewer charges than Town customers pay. “We’re not going to charge less for PSA customers than we charge for customers in town,” Councilman Mike Sullivan declared.

PSA Chairman Panek did not appear pleased with the direction events were going. “Unbelievable,” he muttered after the meeting.

The financial analysis by Town staff did not suggest a monthly sewer cost for out-of-town customers.  Instead, it showed a cost to process sewage of 1.2 cents per gallon. Town customers pay 3 cents a gallon for the first 2,000 gallons.

Public Works Director Dave Fauber explained that the Town would only be providing sewage treatment – not collection — for out-of-town customers. Operation and maintenance of the pipes and pumping stations to deliver the wastewater to the Cape Charles treatment plant would be the responsibility of the PSA. When asked who would handle collection, Fauber said that the PSA might contract with the Town.

Councilman Steve Bennett asked why the staff analysis was based on 30 County properties rather than the 68 properties in the proposed special tax district. Town Manager Heather Arcos said she had been told only to consider 30 properties. (The majority of parcels in the proposed tax district are undeveloped, with no current need for a sewer line.)

Councilman Wendell asked if Town sewer rates would go up again next year to pay the cost of manhole maintenance that was deferred this year. Councilwoman Natali said that the manhole replacement should not be charged to the PSA since the problem is only in the historic district.

In related business, Council members heard concerns of Cape Charles Business Association President George Proto, who asked how the Town would benefit from enabling commercial development on the highway by providing wastewater service. Proto also wondered how much the revenue gained from the County would actually affect in-Town sewer rates.  Council members agreed that “anecdotally, there is a lot of impact on towns with development on a highway,” and the question should be considered “very carefully.”  However, Town Council members voted more than a year ago to accept sewage from the highway, with only Councilman Wendell opposed.

Town resident Deborah Bender was also given an opportunity to speak, and noted that Supervisor Willie Randall said September 23 that Town residents concerned about an alleged conflict of interest should raise their concerns with their Town representatives [rather than the Board of Supervisors]. She expressed her concern that Bob Panek is both the Town’s wastewater consultant and the chairman of the PSA.



3 Responses to “Town Council Mulls Fees for County Sewer Service”

  1. Antonio Sacco on September 26th, 2013 11:37 pm

    This major infrastructure should be made only by the Board of Supervisors of Northampton County. If you are afraid to make a decision, then get out of the way and let the people elect those that can.

  2. Steve Downs on September 27th, 2013 12:20 pm

    Uh, Mr. Sacco, they DID make a decision. They decided that more information is needed before an informed decision can be made regarding the infrastructure of the proposed sewer system. They paid attention to the majority of citizens who came and voiced their opinions and feelings. Good enough for me.

  3. Deborah Bender on October 4th, 2013 6:18 pm

    I am so glad that the Board of Supervisors listened to the voice of the people. They were so right when they said there must be a better way to fund “the pipe” without hurting the many businesses that would have been in the “special tax district.” It took a lot of courage for a lot of the folks who got up and spoke out against the pipe to do that. Many of them were shy businessmen who have never done anything like that before. Hats off to all of the people that fought the pipe. For once the little people in the path of the big people PREVAILED!