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Posted at 2:57 PM ET, 01/24/2011

Proposed bill addresses Leesburg utility rate dispute

By Caitlin Gibson

A bill introduced into the General Assembly on Friday seeks to provide a permanent solution to a years-long dispute over water and utility rates in Leesburg.

Senate Bill 1475, introduced by state Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun) and state Del. Joe May (R-Loudoun), would require that the Loudoun Board of Supervisors approve any increase proposed by the town of Leesburg to the percentage differential between water and sewer rates charged to in-town customers and the rates charged to out-of-town customers. The rule would apply to any increase beyond the percentage differential established as of Jan. 1. Leesburg's mayor and town council are responsible for determining utility rates for in-town and out-of-town water and sewer customers.

The legal battle between Leesburg and out-of-town customers began in 2006, when a group of out-of-town utility customers sued Leesburg for imposing a 100 percent surcharge on water and sewer bills. The case went to trial in 2009, and the Loudoun County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the out-of-town customers, outlawing the Leesburg ordinance. The town appealed the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court, which overturned the 2009 ruling Nov. 4, 2010.

New rates for water and sewer service were adopted September 2009 and remained in place after the November ruling. Herring stated that under the proposed bill, the percentage surcharge that took effect in 2009 would remain in place.

"Let me be clear, this bill in no way inhibits the town of Leesburg's ability to raise its rates, nor does it affect the currently adopted rate schedule through FY16," Herring said in a statement. "Should it be the will of the mayor and town council to implement high differentials in the future, they may do so, provided the board of supervisors agrees."

May said that the bill would address a central concern expressed by the dissenting justices in the Virginia Supreme Court's November decision: "Out-of-town customers are currently subject to the decisions of the mayor and members of the town council, for whom they cannot vote," May said. "This bill would provide redress for those customers."

Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd expressed her disappointment with the proposed restrictions in an e-mail to Herring and May.

"I believe you have done a grave disservice to all your constituents living within the town of Leesburg," she wrote.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By Caitlin Gibson  | January 24, 2011; 2:57 PM ET
Categories:  Caitlin Gibson, General Assembly 2011, Loudoun County  
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