UPDATED April 5, with information from the Greene County Board of Supervisors special meeting.
By Terry Beigie
In a special meeting on Monday, April 5, the Greene County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a second resolution calling for the unanimous consent of Orange and Madison boards of supervisors to allow Greene to withdraw from the Rapidan Service Authority (RSA).
Monroe Supervisor Steve Bowman made the motion for approval and Midway Supervisor Marie Durrer seconded.
“I am definitely in support of this motion,” Bowman said. “It's essentially the same thing we've been asking for almost six or eight months. And I just wanted to say that I know that the board of supervisors and the county administration have worked diligently to negotiate with Orange and Madison counties to secure and resolve Greene’s exit from RSA, which unfortunately has not been successful yet. Hopefully, this will be successful. But again, I'm rather skeptical.”
“It’s been very frustrating for all the board (members), but especially you and Mr. (Ron) Williams,” she said. “Maybe they’ve seen the light, let’s hope. I’m not betting on, but I hope so. I’m all for this resolution and we have nothing to lose by it. So, let’s send the second resolution and hope they’ll agree with it and let us out.”
At-Large Supervisor Dale Herring said he agreed with sending the resolution again.
“I do feel after everything that we’ve gone through this may be an exercise in futility,” Herring said. “But I feel like we should go ahead and pass the resolution and present it to the RSA board and to the Madison and Orange boards and hopefully get this issue resolved.”
Ruckersville Supervisor Davis Lamb said he noted the updated resolution appeared a bit “milder” than previous ones.
“I think it’s well-written,” Lamb said. “I think we just go forward here and try to get this done as quickly as possible. I mean we’re losing facility fees all the time.”
Chairman Bill Martin, Stanardsville, said he sees this resolution as a way to “respond positively to a request that had been made” by many at the RSA Board of Members meeting, including the chairs of both the Madison and Orange boards of supervisors, as well as a request from the RSA attorney.
“We may be missing an opportunity by not making this response,” Martin said.
Greene supervisors agreed to the special meeting when during last Thursday’s special RSA Board of Members meeting a resolution to terminate RSA—designed to allow Greene out of the 50-year partnership with Orange and Madison counties—was denied 4-2 with Greene representatives voting in favor it.
Greene has been asking to be released from the authority since last August after RSA’s Board of Members voted in July to end billing of the facility fee that was being used to pay for bonds related to water and sewer and the water treatment and impoundment project. In a resolution to the boards of supervisors in Orange and Madison counties, Greene requested to be let out of the authority and both boards voted no. In September, the Greene Board of Supervisors filed a lawsuit against RSA for breach of contract and in January asked Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, to legislate the release through a bill on the floor of the General Assembly. It died in committee.
Madison County’s customer base is about 3% of the total users. Orange County has the highest percentage with more than 5,000 users and Greene County is next with more than 3,000 customers.
At the April 1 RSA board meeting, Madison County Board of Supervisors Chairman Clay Jackson was first to offer his request to deny the resolution.
“I view it as irresponsible,” Jackson said. “None of the details have been worked out; there’s no concern for the customer base. It seems like it’s almost a bully move.”
Jackson said he believed it has come to the point that the partner counties “wish Greene our best” and go forward.
“I’m the one that drafted that ‘irresponsible’ resolution,” said Tom Lachney, attorney for both Greene and Orange counties. “I wasn’t actually going to comment, but I feel like I need to now.”
Lachney said it’s his belief that Madison specifically keeps moving the ball, likening it to the Charlie Brown and Lucy comic.
“My understanding was that there was a consensus on this board to vote against this resolution because Madison agreed that they will vote to let Greene out,” Lachney said. “What I just heard is they ‘will entertain the idea;’ that’s what was just said by the chairman from Madison County. The ball moved again—every single time.”
The resolution was based on Virginia code section 15.2-5109, Lachney said, which allows for the dissolution of an authority when there are irreconcilable differences.
“What 5109 does and what the resolution in front of you does is it allows Greene to get out right now,” he said. “It allows Orange and Madison to continue on the RSA and anything claiming to the contrary is disingenuous.”
Madison County’s attorney Sean Gregg and RSA’s attorney Terry Lynn both disagreed with Lachney.
“(Statute) 5109 talks specifically about dissolution, it doesn’t talk half dissolution,” Gregg said. “That’s 15.2-5112. He’s trying to conflate the two statutes. Madison County, after some consideration, realizes that Greene County wants out badly enough.”
Lynn agreed it’s statute 15.2-5112 that deals with withdrawal of a partner from an authority. The original requests to be let out in August were based on that statute, but to be let out it must be unanimous and both remaining counties voted no.
“Once the boards agree—Orange and Madison—then the bondholders come into play and the bondholders have to make sure that the Rapidan Service Authority remains creditworthy and Greene County, if they’re going to continue, they will look at that situation as well,” Lynn said. “It’s only after all those steps are done that the issue comes back to this board, who then issues another resolution and then there is a public hearing.”
Jim Crozier, Orange County RSA representative, said he’s worked to find a path forward with all the parties involved.
“I will be the first one to state that the actions last year that were taken by the RSA board may not have been the smartest to take; I’ll bear my responsibility,” Crozier said. “One of the major concerns that I have right now is the fact that all groups have been working in a direction, might not be the same direction but in directions, and I find it difficult to process the different beliefs of the legal counsels. I have a concern with this resolution.”
Martin said the situation has been going on about a year and the burden of financing has been shifted from water users to all taxpayers in Greene County—who were already paying the largest share of the project as about 7.5 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value goes toward the water project.
“I just see money being paid to lawyers looking for a way to drag things out again in the name of fair and equitable,” Martin said. “Let’s talk about fair; this board voted to breach its own agreements with Greene County. We can say the agreements were wrong but they were legal agreements. Then someone came up with the idea that perhaps the facility fee is illegal. OK, that’s an opinion—there are lots of legal opinions to say it’s not illegal.”
Martin said it’s time for the board to move forward.
Both Troy Coppage and Carty Yowell, Madison County RSA representatives, did not agree with the resolution. Coppage said RSA has continued to provide water and sewer for the customers throughout the past year and RSA General Manager Tim Clemons agreed.
“I’m hearing a lot of what I consider to be misleading statements,” Clemons said. “We’ve said from day one that we support long-term storage. We may not have agreed on the way it was going to be done or how it was going to be funded, but we did not not support it.”
Clemons said he tried to work with Greene County, offering $30 million toward the project, but was told no.
“RSA services its bondholders, it protects its permits, it provides its customers with water and sewer today,” Clemons said. “The irreconcilable differences are not with us.”
He said even through the distractions of the past year, RSA employees have continued their responsibilities to provide water and sewer in all three counties.
Martin motioned to approve the resolution and Ron Williams, the other Greene representative, seconded. Crozier, Coppage and Yowell voted against, as did Chairman Lee Frame of Orange.
Representatives from Orange and Madison both agreed that if Greene resubmitted a withdrawal resolution that they’d take it back to their boards for consideration.
“I hear more run around, no conclusive direction,” Martin said. “This board has been a year-plus kind of sorting through this. Everyone sees where we are and it’s probably—I’ve got my Greene County board hat on here—it’s probably time to let the court (decide). Greene provided the resolutions for Orange County and Madison County last year, both voted them down. Nothing has changed.”
All three counties’ boards of supervisors meet on Tuesday, April 13. Greene supervisors held the special meeting to get the resolutions in to Madison and Orange counties to get on their agendas.
Taylor noted at the end of Monday’s meeting that passing and resubmitting the request does not nullify any of the other options Greene County is pursing, including the lawsuit.
“This is a very, very narrow purpose that is before you this evening. There are many other things going on in the background and with our legal team. And those will need to be detailed and discussed in a full closed session at your board meeting next week,” Taylor said. “There is a lot of work going on right now, given this new change of direction from the RSA board.”
The next hearing regarding the lawsuit is scheduled for 11 a.m. on May 24, in Greene County Circuit Court.