Franklin, Southampton representatives attend IW water-sewer meeting

Published 9:59 am Friday, March 10, 2017

Representatives from the city of Franklin and the counties of Southampton and Surry joined the Isle of Wight intergovernmental water-sewer task force for their monthly meeting on Wednesday to compare solutions for meeting each community’s water and sewer needs. The meeting was held at 3 p.m. in the conference room of the Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad building in Smithfield.

Representing Franklin was City Manager R. Randy Martin. Southampton’s representatives included County Administrator Mike Johnson and Director of Utilities Julian Johnson. Surry was represented by County Administrator Tyrone Franklin.

“We thought we would like to know what our neighbors are doing,” said task force chairman Dick Grice, who also represents the Smithfield District on the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors.

Of particular interest to the task force was a shared utility services study prepared by the Timmons Group in 2015 for Franklin and Southampton, which examined three scenarios in which the city could partner with the county for water and sewer services, and ultimately recommended the creation of a Franklin-Southampton water-sewer authority.

“This task force, particularly after reading their report, we’re really doing what they paid to have done,” Grice said.

According to Mike Johnson, the catalyst for the creation of the study came about in July 2012 when Franklin’s then-Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn reached out to Southampton’s Board of Supervisors with concerns over the city’s shrinking tax base and suggested the creating a committee to investigate the potential for sharing services to cut costs. That committee, composed of two representatives from the city and two from the county, suggested sharing water and sewer services. In their recommendation, they cited that Franklin’s aging wastewater treatment plant, located in a floodplain, had taken significant damage during floods in 1999 and 2006, resulting in the city being without sewer service for days after each event.

“Economic development drives this as much as anything,” Martin added, saying that the city of Franklin had missed out on some economic development opportunities as well because the city could not guarantee sufficient sewer capacity.

According to Tyrone Franklin, Surry County conducted its wastewater study in 2008, the result of which was the county deciding to join the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.

“I’m excited about the future of our community because HRSD has unlimited wastewater capacity, so if we find some industry that wants to come into our community, we can make it happen,” he said. “Annually, we had to subsidize our systems to provide service, and we no longer have to put that burden on the tax payers. It’s customer driven now, and that’s the way it should be.”

Windsor Town Manager Michael Stallings raised his concern that whatever Isle of Wight County ends up doing to address its water and sewer concerns, it will need to make financial sense for the county’s two towns to participate.

“I don’t see the town [of Windsor] wanting to do something that will make our rates go up sobstantially for no real benefit,” he said, adding that Windsor residents currently pay three separate water and sewer bills, one to the county, one to the town, and one to HRSD for sewer service only.

Following input from the representatives of the surrounding communities, Grice recommended the task force appoint a subcommittee to compile Isle of Wight’s own water and sewer report, to which the other members of the task force agreed. The subcommittee will include Isle of Wight Director of Utility Services, Don Jennings, Windsor Town Manager Michael Stallings, Newport District resident Rich Matthews, and a representative from Smithfield yet to be named.

Grice hopes the subcommittee will be able to present to the task force by their next meeting, which will be held on Wednesday, April 12 at 3 p.m. in the Isle of Wight Rescue Squad building.