WINCHESTER — Members of City Council’s Finance Committee were surprised to learn Tuesday that Frederick County wants to continue obtaining water service from Winchester after its current contract with the city expires on April 30.

City officials had previously been told the county was going to let the agreement lapse.

According to a proposed amendment to the agreement with Frederick Water, which oversees Frederick County’s water supply and distribution, Winchester will sell a minimum of 400,000 gallons of water per day to residential customers in the county, netting the city about $810,000 per year for the next 20 years.

Additionally, Winchester Public Services Director Perry Eisenach said the amendment will result in Frederick County’s residential water customers paying the same amount for water as city residents. That’s a significant change from the long-standing agreement that charged county residents 50% more for water than their counterparts in Winchester.

For example, city homes served by a 3/4-inch water connection currently pay $52.73 per month, whereas county homes connected to the city’s water supply with the same size connection pay $79.09 per month.

Eisenach said lowering the residential rates for county customers will reduce city water revenues by approximately $300,000 a year but, taken in perspective, that’s better than the alternative of losing all water revenues from the county when the current agreement expires this spring.

“We think it’s a win-win for both sides,” Eisenach told the Finance Committee during its meeting in Rouss City Hall.

Winchester sources its drinking water from the North Fork of the Shenandoah River near Middletown. Eisenach said the city first agreed in 1971 to supply water to properties in Frederick County, and the terms of that contract have been amended three times since then.

Frederick Water previously informed the city it would not renew the agreement when it expires on April 30.

“This has been something we’ve always had a concern with,” Mayor and Finance Committee Chairman David Smith said on Tuesday.

For reasons Eisenach didn’t explain, the county recently changed its mind and requested a fourth amendment to the 50-year-old contract.

Eisenach said the county currently buys a minimum of 625,000 gallons of city water per day, an amount that would be lowered to 400,000 gallons per day under the terms of the proposed amendment that would take effect on May 1.

“The initial rate for this water purchase will be $5.55 per 1,000 gallons with 1% annual increases for years two thru 10,” according to documentation presented Tuesday to the Finance Committee. “Increases for years 11 thru 20 will be based on increases in the consumer price index.”

Both sides have the right to terminate the agreement after 10 years.

The two members of the Finance Committee, Smith and Richard Bell, forwarded the proposed amendment to City Council with a recommendation of approval. If the full council votes in favor of the deal at its meeting on Dec. 14, Eisenach said he will draft a new ordinance formalizing the reduced water rates for residential customers in Frederick County.

“Well done,” Smith told Eisenach. “It’s another step in the right direction for communications with the county.”

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

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