Don’t expect Richmond to lower sewer rates

Posted at 12:44 PM, Jan 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-04 13:20:12-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -  Money problems are affecting a lot of localities. There is the new problem of revenue lost from states because of the fiscal cliff fallout. And Richmond needs state money to help fix an old problem that dates back to the 1800's.

That's when a lot of the sewer infrastructure under Richmond first started going in.  Today, much of it needs replacing.

At a Friday morning meeting between Richmond leaders and members of the state legislature, the talk was about what this upcoming General Assembly could do for the city.

State Del. Manoli Loupassi (R - Richmond) said he’s hopes the 2013 General Assembly session can focus on economic, not social issues. 

"I'm hopeful that the focus will be more on the pocketbook issues that are extremely important to the people,"  Loupassi said.

In Richmond, the problem goes deeper than crumbling sewer lines.  A Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project started in the 1970s,  still isn't complete.  In many state communities, one set of pipes carries wastewater to treatment plants and another set of sewer pipes go into rivers and streams.

In Richmond however, both go to a 50-million gallon retention basin before treatment.  When storms bring a lot of rain, bacteria and solid waste go into the James River.

"It's going to be a long process but we need to, we have to because we're mandated to continue improvements,” said Richmond City Councilwoman Kathy Graziano.  “All the state aid we can get will help us do it more quickly.”

The phase being worked on now will cost up to $133-million.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is proposing $40-million to help, with a matching federal fund.  But at a total of $80-million, that's not enough.

People living in Richmond pay some of the highest, if not the highest sewer rates in Central Virginia. 20 percent of Richmond residents live below the poverty line.

Rich or poor, you can expect to keep paying those high sewer bills.

"I don't see how we can lower the sewer rate,” Graziano said. “We are presently looking at the water rate and usage rate to see if we can equalize that a little bit, but in terms of lowering the sewer rate, I don't know how we can lower that." 

Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones mentioned at the meeting this morning that the city of Richmond is in a $21-million gap in the budget.

New Richmond School Board Chair Jeff Bourne also impressed upon legislators the need for more money for education.

With budget cuts suggested by Gov. McDonnell and the uncertainty of how the deal to avoid the fiscal cliff will affect state revenue, it will be interesting to see who can find the money they want.