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RSA Board cites lawsuit in denial of Greene's documentation request

RSA Board cites lawsuit in denial of Greene's documentation request

The Rapidan Service Authority Board of Members voted against a Greene County resolution on July 15 that would require the distribution of certain documents that could aid the county in its withdrawal from RSA. Both Madison and Orange counties’ boards of supervisors have unanimously approved Greene’s withdrawal, but those counties’ RSA board members voted against the resolution that would require RSA staff to share specific documents and produce certain documents if they did not already exist.

Board Chairman Lee Frame of Orange, who said at the June meeting that “these are the kinds of information that I think RSA board members need to understand,” said July 15 that while he believes the documentation will need to be created at some point for the Virginia Resources Authority (VRA), he voted against the resolution. At the meeting he said he was “not going to create new documents under a lawsuit.”

Greene County filed a lawsuit in September 2020 citing an alleged breach of contract by RSA for the ending of facility fee billing, as well as voting for a resolution at a meeting that month to prohibit the two Greene County representatives from speaking or voting on anything while the lawsuit was ongoing. Greene was again given its voice on the board in February 2021.

Greene County Administrator Mark Taylor then presented information about splitting assets and debt between the county and RSA and also terms of withdrawal for Greene.

In the financial plan, Taylor notes that since Greene County Circuit Court Judge Claude Worrell II ruled the facility fee was not an impermissible tax, that RSA owes Greene County the nearly $1.8 million it’s lost since the board of members voted 4-2 July 2020 to end facility fee billing upon the advice of the attorney Terry Lynn, who told the board she had concerns about the legality of the fee.

“The primary beneficiary of those losses to Greene County were the Greene County ratepayers; they’re the ones that haven’t paid that,” said Frame, Orange County representative.

Since cessation of the facility fee billing, Greene County has had to fund the debt payments for water and sewer that it holds from the general fund, which is funded by real estate tax dollars from all Greene County taxpayers and not just those who are serviced by RSA.

Only about 1/4 of the Greene County households are serviced by RSA for water and/or sewer.

“We found ourselves in a holding pattern waiting for a ruling from Judge Worrell for the facility fee issue,” Taylor said. “And it was frequently heard by members of various local bodies—including this one—that everyone was waiting for the judge’s decision. The fees charged … were not an impermissible tax … so now we’re at the point of wanting to work our way forward.”

Taylor said the county has put out a request for proposals for operation and maintenance of water and wastewater facilities, effective July 9.

VRA, the agency that holds all the bonds for RSA, must approve the withdrawal before Greene County can separate from the authority. In a letter from March, VRA outlined what information it needs from Greene County to make a decision—including the ability to staff a water and sewer authority; pricing feasibility study; five-year capital improvement projects; and whether Madison and Orange counties are able to survive as an authority without Greene County.

In the terms for withdrawal document given to the members July 15, Taylor lists several capital improvement projects that align with items RSA has listed for Greene County in previous meetings. He told the board that Stantec and Davenport and Company are working on what fees and pricing users will be charged under the new Greene County authority. He said they are scheduled to present that information at the Greene County Board of Supervisors’ Aug. 10 meeting.

“We have engaged to validate for us … that we can provide the same ongoing water and sewer service to customers in Greene County at the same rate currently charged customers in Greene County,” Taylor said. “A preliminary analysis of that question with Davenport and Company … we should be able to continue providing service … at the same rates that RSA currently charges. Stantec is completing a more formal analysis to that point.”

Madison County Member Carty Yowell asked Taylor how far along he thought Greene was in answering all of the VRA questions and Taylor said he thinks the county is about ¾ of the way there.

According to Madison County Member Troy Coppage, “The other thing that really strikes me here is the discussion of the legality of the facility fee. I don’t have the exact wording but the motion to (end facility fee billing) had nothing to do with the legality, I don’t believe.”

However, in the June 2020 meeting when Greene County requested the increase in the facility fee, it was Coppage who said, “Until we know this fee is permissible I just can’t see how we can even considering raising something that may not be permissible to start with.”

Frame agreed at that time, adding any change in the fee would have to be “something agreed to by both RSA and Greene County.” The two Greene County representatives voted against the ending of the facility fee in July 2020.

Frame also asked Lynn in June 2020 if RSA “put(s) ourselves in any additional jeopardy as an RSA board by agreeing to any increases in the facility fee.”

Lynn’s response was, “I guess the question is does RSA want to participate in billing its customers a fee that may be considered illegal?” Later she added, “I have concerns with regard to the fee.”

In the February 2021 board of members meeting, Greene County representative Bill Martin asked the RSA board to consider “rescinding the actions that were taken last July 16 to terminate Greene County’s facility fees.”

Coppage in February told the board that RSA should “look for a solution that’s both fair and legal that would allow Greene to collect the fee and leave RSA out of it.”

Frame asked Lynn if providing Greene County with a customer list would be a “viable option” to which she replied, “no.”

In the March 2021 meeting, Coppage told the Board of Members that they needed “to get an answer on the legality of this facility fee before we can really make a decision on a lot of it. I mean, I think a lot of things hinge on that. It seems we need to press for an answer for that.”

The judge’s ruling came on June 28. Lynn did not discuss the decision at the recent meeting.

All five Greene County supervisors agreed at their July 13 meeting that they support the actions of withdrawal and Monroe Supervisor Steve Bowman asked Martin and Taylor to carry the message to the RSA board that they “want to see action now.”

All audio recordings from board meetings from June 2020 to July 2021 can be found at this link.

The Greene County Board of Supervisors’ Aug. 10 meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the county administration building, 40 Celt Road, Stanardsville. 

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Editor, Greene County Record

Terry Beigie is the Editor of the Greene County Record in Stanardsville. She can be reached at tbeigie@greene-news.com or (434) 985-2315.

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