By Shauna Muckle
Lexington residents already pay more than other Virginia localities for water and sewer services, Council Member Charles Aligood said.
But Aligood, who sits on the Maury Service Authority board, has been warning the public for weeks now that annual increases in utility rates will only accelerate. The MSA, which provides water and wastewater treatment services for Lexington and Rockbridge County, has estimated that an upcoming–and desperately needed—water treatment plant modernization project will cost $20 million.
Aligood said in this economy, that estimate may double. Much of that cost will be passed on to Lexington consumers in utility rate hikes and potentially tax increases.
The project will likely have to be split up into multiple phases over a decade or more.
Jordan Combs, executive director of the MSA, pushed back against the claim that drinking water is unusually expensive in Lexington. The MSA’s wholesale rate to Rockbridge County and Lexington, $4.25 per 1,000 gallons, is about average compared to other places in Virginia, he said.
Combs said nearby localities with lower rates, like Covington, have failing water systems because they’ve punted renovation expenses.
Wastewater treatment in Lexington and Rockbridge County also comes at a higher cost, Combs said—that’s because much of Virginia is included in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which means wastewater is subject to more treatment requirements before it can be deposited back into bodies of water.