Southampton guarantees share of SPSA debt

Published 8:32 am Friday, April 10, 2009

Southampton County on Wednesday guaranteed its share of more than $71 million in loans the beleaguered Southeastern Public Service Authority owes a state lending agency.

The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution that commits Southampton County to provide its “moral obligation” pledge on roughly 6.8 percent, or $4.87 million, of the $71.8 million SPSA owes the Virginia Resources Authority.

The resolution also commits Southampton County to a tipping fee increase from $104 to $170 per ton, retroactive to Feb. 1.

“We’ve been talking about this for awhile,” Board Chairman Dallas Jones said. “We knew it was coming.”

The VRA asked for Southampton’s moral obligation in place of “full faith and credit” commitments from the seven other localities served by

SPSA. Meanwhile, SPSA plans to refinance its debt to the VRA using new revenue from the higher tipping fees and its member localities’ promise to pay its share of the debt.

According to SPSA and government officials, taxpayers will see an increase in the cost of having their garbage collected, but nothing else. Southampton residents pay for garbage disposal through their property taxes.

Not a single person came forward to protest increased tipping fees during a SPSA public hearing on Thursday.

The agency plans to vote on some version of a tipping fee increase at its April 22 meeting.

The county board also discussed the upcoming overhaul of SPSA’s Board of Directors. Gov. Tim Kaine recently signed legislation that will replace the current board — which consists of Jones and other elected officials from each member locality — with citizens appointed by the governor. The new board will take over on Jan. 1.

Southampton County, along with SPSA’s other member localities, is to submit the names of three prospective board members to the governor, who will choose one representative from each locality. The nominees must “possess general business knowledge, and shall not be elected officials.” Nominees selected by the governor will serve four-year terms and can serve for no more than two consecutive terms.

“You need to talk to your people in your district and see if there’s anybody willing to come out and work for nothing,” Jones told the other supervisors. “We’ll have to get some names first, and then we can do like we usually do and weed them out.”

Newsoms District Supervisor Walt Brown said, “It’s going to be a tremendous learning curve. If these individuals don’t have any experience at all with SPSA, there’s probably going to be a lot of meetings up front.”

Jones, who represents the Drewryville District, agreed.

“They’re going in there blind,” Jones said. “Some of them don’t even know SPSA exists.”

Brown added that he is concerned about tipping fees continuing to rise after the new board takes control of SPSA.

“Who’s to say that’s not going to go up with this new board?” Brown asked.

Supervisor Ronald West, who represents the Berlin/Ivor District, countered, “The present board didn’t control it. It won’t be any worse. If everybody outspends what they take in, sooner or later there’s a day of reckoning. And that is exactly what this is. When the new board comes in, we have no control. (The current board) did what we wanted them to, and therefore we’re paying the price now.”

Said Jones, “This is the day of reckoning, just like you said,” gesturing to West. “You either do or die.”