Holland confronts water fee

Published 10:10 pm Wednesday, August 13, 2014

City officials say they’re researching questions and concerns about city water service brought by Holland residents at a meeting last Thursday.

Harry Eller and Debi Lee organized the meeting, which they initially intended to be a town meeting. But some city employees as well as City Councilman Jeffrey Gardy found out about it and showed up.

The biggest issue, Eller and Lee said, is a $1,060 fee the city notified residents in March they would owe. They say they were told in the past there would be no charge.

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A Sept. 27, 2012, letter from the city provided by Lee says, in part, “As part of the project, the city will connect all existing customers to the new water main at no cost to the customers.”

Eller said folks who don’t pay the fee by the due date can make arrangements for a payment plan, but that plan will include interest and a lien on the home.

“That’s going to cause hardships to people that are on fixed incomes,” Eller said. “That was a shock when they put that out, because everybody had heard and was told and we had letters stating there was going to be no connection fee charges.”

Lee said she believes the city should honor what it said in the earlier letters.

“That just kind of blew us out of the water,” she said. “What can we believe if these other letters didn’t mean anything?”

The city spent $12.7 million to extend water mains to Holland to comply with an order from the Virginia Department of Health to resolve high fluoride levels in the city-owned well there. Service was connected April 1.

In response to questions in April, city spokeswoman Diana Klink said customers of the other nine well systems acquired in 2004, the same time the city bought Holland’s well, all owed the fee immediately. But the city deferred it for customers in Holland, she added.

Eller and Lee said other concerns were brought up during the meeting — broken pipes, leaks, a bad smell and taste, water-fed appliances that are going bad and more.

Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts, who attended the meeting, said the city is reviewing correspondence it has sent to Holland residents.

“I’d hate to say anything prematurely,” he said earlier this week, adding the fee is “fairly standard.”

“We need to be able to satisfy their concerns.”

Councilman Gardy also said he’s concerned about the issues raised, including water quality and water pressure as well as the fees.

“Those were the things that concerned me,” he said. “I want to make sure the people are getting good water. I feel like they are.”

“I want to see what information was put out there” about the fee, he added. “I’ve requested that documentation and expect to receive that shortly.”