The Rapidan Service Authority Board of Members voted 5-1 last week to re-instate the $30 monthly facility fee on Greene County customers’ bills. It cannot be added until public hearings are held, however.
Until July 2020, RSA had billed facility fees per an agreement with Greene County starting in 2015. At the July 2020 meeting, the RSA Board of Members voted 4-2—with Greene members Bill Martin and Ron Williams voting against—to end facility fee billing and to have all water hook-up fees submitted to RSA instead of the county. Greene County filed a lawsuit in September 2020 citing an alleged breach of contract by RSA for the July vote and it was at that meeting that the board voted—again 4 to 2—to prohibit the two Greene County representatives from speaking or voting on anything while the lawsuit was ongoing. That changed in February 2021 when the board unanimously allowed Greene’s participation in the business decisions of the board of members and to allow hook-up fees to go back to Greene to be used toward the debt payments for water and sewer infrastructure.
At the Nov. 18 regular RSA board meeting, Williams read a statement outlining the case between the authority and the county, noting the five times it has been argued in front of Greene County Circuit Court Judge Hon. Claude Worrell II and that each time the judge has sided with the county. Judge Worrell ruled in June 2021 that the fee was not an illegal tax, as RSA had suggested in the vote to end the billing. The most recent decision was made on Nov. 8 when Judge Worrell ruled that the contracts between Greene and RSA, which lay out the process for the facility fees, are legally enforceable documents.
“The (plea in bar) asserted that Greene County’s claim is barred by sovereign immunity,” Williams said Nov. 18. “The court observed that based on our general manager’s testimony, RSA appears to have failed to live up to its agreements with Greene County. The court also said that RSA seems to have committed this failure without good faith.”
Williams asked that the transcript from the hearing and his statement be entered in the record for the November meeting, which Chairman Lee Frame, of Orange, agreed to.
“The court is stating the agreements are legally binding; how long must this costly legal exercise play out?” Williams asked. “The ratepayers in our three counties are footing this bill.”
On Nov. 12, a letter from RSA attorney Terry Lynn was sent to Greene County to set a mediation date. At the Sept. 16, 2021, meeting the RSA board unanimously voted to authorize RSA General Manager Tim Clemons and Lynn to negotiate Greene County’s withdrawal from RSA.
Williams noted in his statement that Greene County and Virginia Resources Authority (VRA)—who hold bonds for both Greene and RSA and must approve the withdrawal—have requested the meditation “for months.”
“Greene County is reading Ms. Lynn’s Nov. 12 letter as an invitation to mediate without conditions; again we hope this is the case,” Williams said. “There is no need for discussion about Greene County remaining in the RSA; that is not happening. Greene County is withdrawing. Is it not time to stop the financial bleeding and the agony of this long legal process? Is it not time for RSA to follow the resolutions of the three member counties and permit Greene County’s withdrawal?”
Williams motioned for the fee to be reinstated and Madison representative Carty Yowell seconded. Frame voted against the resolution.
Madison member Troy Coppage offered a reason for his vote:
“I think from the beginning, we withdrew it because we felt RSA could do this job better; we see that’s not where we’re headed,” Coppage said. “I then said, I believe, that I was not willing to reconsider (reinstatement) until it was deemed legal and that question has been answered.”
Yowell asked whether Madison and Orange would have representation at the mediation and Lynn told him that their lawyer will discuss that with the Madison County Board of Supervisors after a conference call scheduled for later this week.
“A couple months ago—two, three months ago now—Greene County offered their withdrawal agreement and as I look through the VRA bullets, it seems it’s now on us, on the RSA board, to counter with our own version of the withdrawal agreement,” Yowell said. “And obviously somewhere in between those two will meet, so I wanted to find out where are we in the process of coming up with our own version of withdrawal?”
Lynn said that will be worked out with the mediator.
“That’s the goal … that everything will be resolved through that mediation,” Lynn said.
The board unanimously voted to give bonuses to RSA employees—$500 for full-time employees and $300 for part-time employees.
“So, it’s just a flat amount, it doesn’t have anything to do with length of service or anything?” Yowell asked. Clemons said it’s a flat fee.
“In the future, I would like to look at the compensation package for the RSA employees,” said Orange County member Jim Crozier.
“Just so you’re aware we are working with the (Virginia Retirement System) right now,” Clemons said. “We asked them to look at some actuarials for us to see what it would take for RSA to become a member of that. They told me just this morning that it would probably be a four- to six-month process to work through. And, of course, this board will have to approve it if that’s what we decide.”
Martin told the board there are two court cases scheduled for the lawsuit that remains ongoing: Dec. 13 and Jan. 11, both in Greene County Circuit Court.
“The mediation is first,” Lynn said.
“Right, I just thought we’d get the court date … to make sure everyone is aware,” Martin said.
RSA’s demurrer is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 13. A motion for summary judgement from Greene County is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11.