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Falls Church Rejects Paying Water Refunds

City Council voted 6-0 not to pay refund claims to Fairfax.

The City of Falls Church City Council voted 6-0 Monday night not to pay claims from Fairfax County water customers for alleged overcharged bills.

City Councilman Lawrence Webb said council was advised by their lawyer not to pay the claims but to take the claims through the legal process.

“We’re going to take the legal process and let it play out,” Webb said.

McLean residents are Falls Church customers and had requested a refund. Dranesville Supervisor John Foust has not responded to inquiries asking for reaction to the action by the Falls Church Council.

Since December, several customers, mostly in Fairfax County, have complained that their water bills from the City of Falls Church were overcharged. Customers allege that they were overcharged between fiscal years 2007 through 2009. Alexandria-based lawyer John Charles Bennison filed a lawsuit on behalf of 21 water utility customers who alleged they were overcharged for services. According to the water utility’s website, the company supplies water to 35,000 commercial and residential customers within the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County.

Barbara Gordon, spokeswoman for the city said there is no court date as of yet. She said the city will communicate their decision to the customers who allege they were overcharged.

“This week letters will go out to the 700 customers who asked for refunds,” Gordon said.

Background: The refunds are part of a court battle between Falls Church and Fairfax. A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge ruled in January 2010 that Falls Church had been making a profit by charging customers more than it actually cost to produce the water. Then they spent those profits on city services.

Judge R. Terrence Ney called that unconstitutional, "extra-territorial" tax on Fairfax County customers.

Then in June 2010 the McLean Citizens Association   sent a letter the Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and John Foust, our supervisor which said, "Since most citizens of McLean (those living inside the Beltway) pay for water rates  to (Falls Church) which are more than one-third higher than rates charged by Fairfax Water to its customers, we urge the board of supervisors to commission a study examining the possibility of Fairfax Water assuming provision of water in area currently served by (Falls Church.)"

Fairfax County is already pursuing a refund of overcharges that were paid by the County, including Fairfax County Public Schools, for the years 2007 through 2010, said Dranesville Supervisor John Foust. The owners of large commercial properties like office buildings have also requested refunds, Foust said.

How many folks are owed money?

About 110,000 Fairfax County residents are served by Falls Church Water, Foust said including most of us in McLean. Fairfax county residents make up 92 percent of the Falls Church water customers.

McLean Patch Editor Bobbi Bowman contributed to this story.

Kerry Stackpole May 25, 2011 at 05:08 PM
The decision of the Falls Church City Council to dodge their ethical and moral obligation to return water service overcharges to customers only serves to fuel the cynicism and the diminish the respect politicians so avidly pursue and desire from citizens. Choosing to do the right thing was so obvious and easy. The Court has already ruled on the matter. Now by doing the wrong thing, the Falls Church City Council will squander taxpayer funds and citizen's goodwill by trying yet again to hide behind the legal process which has already and plainly told them they were wrong.
Rob Jackson May 25, 2011 at 07:12 PM
This is shameful conduct by the City Council. They had their day in court and lost. They should have made refunds. The water utility operations should be regulated by the Virginia State Corporation Commission. Meanwhile let's all encourage water customers to avoid making other purchases within the city limits of Falls Church. Let's keep our business in Fairfax and Arlington Counties.
Pamela Danner May 26, 2011 at 08:39 PM
Fairfax Water won the case against the Falls Church Water Authority based on Falls Church's unconstitutional use of water fees from Fairfax County citizens for the Falls Church City General Fund.  I am personally, both as a resident of Fairfax County who is paying for water provided by Falls Church, and as a former member of the Fairfax Water Authority Board, very disappointed that Falls Church has decided not to issue refunds to the citizens of Fairfax County for years of overcharging for its water.  Falls Church has appealed all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court without success, and at this point I am dismayed that the Falls Church public officials fail to see the value in doing the right thing.
Chuck Stevens May 27, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Falls Church City sues Fairfax Water; Fairfax Water countersues and wins. Now Falls Church wants to go back to court and try again. They must be slow learners. Why don't they just do the right thing and refund their wrongful overcharges? Maybe they are masochists. Anyway, I hope that, if they lose, the court makes Falls Church pay the plaintiff's attorney fees.
jfoj May 29, 2011 at 11:34 AM
I believe there may also be other issues with Falls Church waster that many may be missing. Although there appears to be a obvious over charging based upon Fairfax County rates, I also believe there are serious issues of over billing as well. I know many McLean residents that very ofter see wild variations in their water usage figures that cannot be accounted for. When calls are made to Falls Church Water, it seems many times you can get credits on your bill without any official process or review. It so happens that the same person that you discuss excessive billing with has the wholesale authority to issue credits as well! Seems rather fishy to me that there are widespread issues with Falls Church Water, no oversight and credits can be obtained VERY easily. I personally think a full and complete audit would turn up some interesting cash flow and unusual book keeping! Interested to see what others think on this matter.

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