The City of Falls Church water authority, which serves the bulk of McLean residents, is up for sale.
The City of Falls Church City Council voted unanimously Monday night to send out a "Request for Expressions of Interest" to see if public or private utility companies, including the Fairfax County Water Authority, would be interested in buying the Falls Church water system.
The decision to sell the Water Authority comes after several years of fighting with Fairfax County over water rates. Ninety percent of Falls Church customers live in Fairfax County including most McLean residents.
The fighting between the two jurisdictions culminated in December 2011 when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed taking control of all water rates charged county residents and control of the millions of dollars in water fees that will flow from new developments, especially in Tysons Corner.
Currently Fairfax County water rates are nearly $30 cheaper than Falls Church rates for the average homeowner.
Dranesville Supervisor John Foust called for the county to buy Falls Church Water last summer. His suggestion came after leading Falls Church officials appeared at the McLean Citizens Association's July meeting to explain and answer questions about a proposed price increase and the ongoing questions about a court decision in a where Fairfax County successfully sued Falls Church City for overcharging its Fairfax County customers.
Foust said Wednesday night, "I am not surprised by Falls Church's decision to explore a possible sale. Their economic incentive to serve 90,000 Fairfax County residents no longer exists. I believe the best option for all cutomers of Falls Church Water, both Fairfax and Falls Church residents, would be a merger with Fairfax Water. This would ensure that they continue to have excellent water service and at lower rates."
He added, "While I am not surprised by Fall Church's decision, it is not the result we intended when we passed the water ordinance. Our goal was to bring equity to water rates and to make Fairfax Water responsible for new service in the county. That is still the goal."
Rob Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association which has long complained about the water rates, said: "I think this is a very good decision, not only for the residents of McLean and other parts of Fairfax County served by Fall Church Water, but also for the citizens of Falls Church City.
"Hopefully, a deal can be reached between the City and Fairfax Water that combines the two utilities into a stronger and more efficient operation. A combined water utility should be able to provide continued high-quality, safe water, at a lower price to many. . . I urged the parties to work towards a merger when I testified for the MCA to the Board of Supervisors. We will now need to see how Fairfax Water responds," Jackson said.
The proposals are due March 2. Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields said the process would take several months. He said the city council would review the responses, according to
“Staff and Council have been considering this option for some time,” Shields said in an interview.
The City has operated its own public water supply system since the 1930s. A sale of the water system would require approval by Falls Church voters by referendum. Should that be the preferred option, it is possible that a referendum for sale of the system could be before the voters by the Nov. 6, 2012 General Election.
Fast Facts: Falls Church Water
Customers: 120,000 people in a 33 square-mile area that includes Sever Corners, Tysons Corner, Merrifield and McLean. All customers pay the same rates.
Annual Revenues: Approximately $20 million.
Water bill based on use of 24,000 gallons per quarter:
City of Falls Church $86.55
Fairfax County: Fairfax Water $60.19