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Vinton begins process to sell utility assets to Western Virginia Water Authority

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The Vinton Town Council voted unanimously to begin formal discussions to transition its utility systems to the Western Virginia Water Authority at its meeting Tuesday evening.

The move would include the town selling all of its infrastructure to the WVWA for $3 million, and it is anticipated that the effective date of completion for the transition will be July 1, according to Town Manager Pete Peters.

Currently the town provides water to all of its residents and to some customers on the eastern side of the county, totaling approximately 5,200 customers, according to town officials.

Sanitary sewer for town customers is provided by the Roanoke Regional Water Pollution Control Plant for treatment, according to a joint release from the town and authority. Customers will continue to receive the service provided by the facility, and the sewer pipe infrastructure in the town will be maintained by the authority.

Peters said Vinton and WVWA officials have been in talks for several months hashing out the details of the sale, noting that it is better for both the town and its residents going forward. He said that while Tuesday’s vote does not make the deal official, it is the beginning of the transition.

“We will be spending the next several months getting people from the authority familiar with our system and tying up loose ends,” he said, noting that no town employee will lose their job, but a few may become authority employees.

With all of the maintenance required on the town’s facilities, it would eventually lead to higher prices that are not competitive with the authority, he said.

“It will provide our residents with steady rates. Our rates are about the same as the authority’s right now, but we are thinking long term,” Peters said. “It will also free up a lot of our people [in the public works department] to focus on other needs in the town.”

The town will also be able to focus more of its time and funding on important community development projects such as transportation enhancements, improving walkability, and improving stormwater management, the release states.

“We want to build up our community and to give extra support to those projects that help make us special. Having the Authority provide high quality utility service while we focus on enhancing the look and feel of the town is a win-win for Vinton,” Mayor Bradley Grose said in the release.

As it currently stands, the deal includes several stipulations, including the exchange of funds by both sides, according to the proposal provided by the town.

The town would receive $3 million over three fiscal years, beginning in fiscal year 2024, and the town would give the authority $5.7 million in American Rescue Plan Funding as a subrecipient to make additional systemwide improvements within the Vinton and East Roanoke County Utility System.

The town will also complete $4.4 million in ongoing utility upgrades that it approved in March, before the two sides started talks, by the end of the fiscal year, June 30. The two main projects on that list include a $1.6 million systemwide radio meter replacement, and a $2 million sewer lift station rebuild on Third Street, according to the proposal.

Other notable agreements in the deal include WVWA taking over all outstanding debt associated with the operation of town’s utilities, which Peters said is approximately $9 million, and the town will cover any remaining balance of the utility fund as of June 30.

The authority will also gain approximately 5,200 new customers, nearly a 10% increase in the amount of customers it currently serves, according to the release.

Groundwater wells are currently used to provide drinking water for Vinton residents and businesses. After the acquisition of the town’s system, some residents will continue to receive their drinking water from these groundwater wells, according to the release.

“Where feasible, the Authority will utilize existing water distribution interconnections to allow water from the Carvins Cove Reservoir to supply homes and businesses with treated drinking water,” the release states.

That has to be approved by the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, since the two localities have a 50-year memorandum of understanding from 1979 that Vinton would provide its water to its residents as well as some in the eastern part of the county.

“The county has been part of the discussions throughout the process,” Peters said. “They are in agreement that this is the best path forward.”

Roanoke County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jason Peters spoke at the town council meeting Tuesday, saying he was there to offer the county’s support of the transition.

The agreement that ran through 2029 requires that both locality’s governing bodies vote to dissolve that memorandum of understanding before it becomes official, according to Peters.

The WVWA, founded in 2004, is fully funded by ratepayers, and serves most of the Roanoke Valley’s customers and some beyond.

A multijurisdictional model supports economic development in the valley through high quality and quantity of water, sewage treatment capacity and competitive rate structures, the release states.

“Both water and wastewater issues are multi-jurisdictional in nature; therefore, the most efficient and effective way to manage and utilize the Roanoke Valley’s water and wastewater potential is regionally,” according to the release.

The authority has added other jurisdictions since forming, including Franklin County in 2009, Botetourt County in 2015 and the town of Boones Mill just last month, according to the release.

Authority rates for customers using 5,000 gallons of water per month are currently at $28.75 for water and $35.25 for sewer service. Town customers pay $28.97 a month for water and $37.38 a month for sewer, according to the release. It is anticipated that rates would be equalized with the authority rates by July 1, 2022.

Staff from Vinton, Roanoke County and the WVWA will hold a public information open house meeting at 5 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Vinton War Memorial to answer questions from customers, citizens and business owners.

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