Water close to being a reality

Ocean View is entering the home stretch with its central water system, as town officials moved Monday to formally establish rates that will be charged to water customers for operation of the new system and repayment of the town’s debt service for its construction, with a first reading of the associated ordinance.
With water being charged at $3.4649 per 1,000 gallons used, a typical user using 10,000 gallons per quarter would pay $52 per quarter ($208 annually) in water usage costs, plus an additional facilities charge of $88 per quarter ($352 annually), bringing their total bill to $123 per quarter, or $491 annually.

Town Manager Conway Gregory noted that that figure was above the cost estimates quoted during public hearings on the water system over the course of the last four years, in which such a customer was expected to pay $390 annually – a 26 percent increase over the earlier estimates.

But Gregory emphasized that the passage of time and general increases in costs during those four years was the reason costs had risen over the initial estimate.

The current projection for annual operating costs of the system is $293,100, including $238,984 annually in debt service for the U.S. Department of Agriculture loan for system construction, $12,596 in administrative costs, $21,520 in yearly operating and maintenance costs through Tidewater Utilities and $20,000 annually reserved for unexpected expenses and repairs.

Users will pay a portion of those costs as part of their quarterly water bills, to offset the $293,100 annual figure, including one of two quarterly charges, in addition to the per-thousand-gallon water usage costs.

Customers of the new system — for which hookup is mandatory for homes and businesses in Ocean View not already serviced by another water provider, such as Tidewater Utilities — will pay either a facilities charge or a service availability charge, both assessed quarterly.

Those with water meters installed will pay the facilities charge based on the size of the meter line, ranging from $88 quarterly for 5/8-inch or 1-inch meters, up to $3,316 quarterly for a massive 8-inch line. The $88 quarterly fee will be typical for the average user and includes both the service availability charge and a quarterly meter reading charge.

Those paying the quarterly service availability charge — all lots that can be serviced by the water system but are not using metered service — will pay a flat quarterly rate of $78, or $312 annually. That figure is roughly 26 percent above the initial estimate of $244 annually.

The town will also assess charges for temporary turn-offs and then for turning the water back on again. Each of those requests from a customer will result in a $40 fee. When water is shut off for non-payment, a $150 fee will be assessed, with $40 additional for turning the water back on again. Emergency turn-ons or turn-offs will cost $20 more, at $60.

Service connection fees waived for most

Of roughly 950 properties in the town that will be served by town water, about 690 of those property owners will not have to pay service connection fees ranging from $712.70 to $16,652.85, as they have been waived for all those who have had their meters installed during the course of system construction.

Gregory said that includes all homes in the town not already served by another provider, except one for which condemnation proceedings are now under way.

Those who will have to pay the service connection charges when connecting in the future include the owners of approximately 260 currently vacant lots and those whose parcels would be subdivided in the future from existing lots with homes that had connections made during initial system construction.

That service connection charge covers the installation of connections from the main water line to the meter. All property owners will still have to pay their own town-licensed plumbers when connecting their homes to the other side of the meter, as well as any costs associated with the mandatory destruction or conversion to agricultural use of existing wells.

The town council on Monday also held a second reading of the reduced-cost $10 utility permit for the period of one year after water connections are given the go-ahead. Those who hook up to the system after that year will pay a higher charge.

Other various charges for the system include a $40 inspection fee for the initial hookup to the meter, a $40 transfer charge when the meter must be read due to a change in ownership or occupancy, a $40 charge or $60 after-hours charge for frozen service lines or leaks that are the customer’s responsibility, a $100 fee for unauthorized entry into the meter pit, a $250 charge for unauthorized water withdrawal from fire hydrants and a $35 returned check charge.

The ordinance setting the fees for the water system will undergo a second reading in February with possible implementation in March.

System start-up date still pending

Perhaps as important to those looking to get their homes hooked up to the new central water system in Ocean View is the date on which they will be given the go-ahead to do so, or at least have their plumbers do so.

Gregory said mid-week that a target date still has not been set, as the town is still waiting on a final set of items to be completed before it can give that go-ahead.

He said the system has been flushed and its pipes filled with water. One of two required bacterial tests has been successfully completed, with the water supply certified as safe. The second test has also been done, but certification of the results has not yet been received by the town.

When it is received and all other items needed for system start up are done, Gregory said the town will notify property owners by letter that they can begin hooking up to the system. They will have one year from that start date to do so without encountering associated penalties and connection fees that were waived for those who got in on the project from the start.

Gregory also reported better-than-expected news to the town on Monday as word came that more than 65 of some 310 applications for financial assistance with water system hookup costs had been granted aid from through the Sussex County Community Development and Housing office.

Initial ballpark guesses of the number of residents who might qualify for the grants had been closer to a dozen or two dozen. But roughly 70 property owners who applied had met the five requirements and income criteria to qualify for the grants.

Those who were eligible had to be permanent Sussex County residents living in their home as a primary residence, be unable to make the improvements through other means, current on their taxes, have their homes insured and sign a non-interest bearing lien, as well as not exceeding income limits.

Salaries, election, development discussed

Also at their Monday, Jan. 7, meeting, Ocean View town council members approved the town’s salary survey, which included the recommendation that salaries for five of 15 town employees be adjusted as having been too low compared to those offered in other communities in the area.

The council also finalized hours for voting in the upcoming council and mayoral elections for the town, in which a number of candidates have already declared themselves. Registered voters in the town will be able to cast ballots between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 12.

Gregory said the extended hours were intended to help increase voter participation. Residents are required to register with the town and to vote at least once every two years in order to be eligible to vote. Those who need to register or re-register should contact town hall to do so.

The council on Monday also finalized the town’s election districts for the 2008 elections, in the wake of confusion between verbal descriptions and a district map in the 2007 races. Council members run by district in Ocean View, but voters cast their ballot for candidates at large.

Council members also requested Monday that Gregory approach the Delaware Department of Transportation about the state possibly taking over responsibility for Woodland Avenue, which has increasingly become used as part of an alternative to Route 26, resulting in greater traffic levels and greater maintenance needs for the road.

Finally, the council deferred any action on a proposal to develop 21-23 Atlantic Avenue as retail shops and a gas station, as the property owner had not been notified that the application would be discussed at the Jan. 7 meeting.

Nonetheless, residents of nearby Savannah’s Landing did attend the meeting Monday, intending to express concerns about the planned development of the property, with resident Joe Martinez presenting a statement of opposition. Gregory said representatives of the Savannah’s Landing homeowners association had since called the town to clarify that the statement of opposition did not represent the homeowners group.

The council postponed further consideration of the proposal until its February council meeting to give the property owner a chance to attend and answer any questions.

The town council also plans to hold a council workshop on Jan. 22.