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Posted at 7:30 PM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Leesburg utility proposal dies in Va. Senate panel

By Caitlin Gibson

After receiving the support of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on Monday, a state Senate bill that aimed to protect out-of-town Leesburg utility customers from disproportionate water and sewer rate charges failed to emerge from the Senate Local Government Committee after receiving a tie vote of 6-6, according to Leesburg officials.

Leesburg Vice Mayor Kevin D. Wright and Leesburg Town Attorney Jeanette A. Irby testified against the bill before the committee, according to Leesburg Town Council member Kenneth "Ken" Reid.

Senate Bill 1475, introduced in the Virginia General Assembly on Jan. 21 by state Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun) and state Del. Joe T. May (R-Loudoun), sought to provide a permanent solution to a years-long battle over utility rates charged by Leesburg to customers located outside the town.

Residents on both sides of Leesburg's boundary line receive water and sewer services through the town. But for years, customers living in communities outside the town limits have been subject to higher rates. The proposed bill would have required that the Board of Supervisors approve any proposed increase in the percentage difference between utility rates charged to in-town Leesburg customers and rates charged to so-called out-of-town customers. The bill would not have prevented the Leesburg Town Council from increasing utility rates and fees, but would have required board approval for any increase in the percentage differential beyond that established as of Jan. 1.

The Leesburg Town Council voted unanimously on Jan. 25 to oppose the bill. But despite Tuesday's apparent victory, Reid said the vote was too close for comfort.

"I don't think we can sit back and raise the rates the way some people want us to do," he said. "It came within a hair of going forward."

Reid said that the bill would have set a dangerous precedent with potential repercussions for other towns and cities that provide water and sewer services for customers outside town or city limits. He also said that the bill would have posed a significant conflict of interest.

"It was very unfortunate that the board did not see the fact that the county is a big water user, probably the biggest customer from the town of Leesburg, and to give them a vote on the out-of-town differential is akin to giving the car wash guy a vote. He's another of our biggest customers," Reid said.

He added that he hoped the town and county might be able to find another form of compromise on the heated issue.

"If the Board of Supervisors and Loudoun Water want to talk about a joint regional water authority, I think that is something that may be worthwhile to discuss," Reid said.

By Caitlin Gibson  | February 1, 2011; 7:30 PM ET
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