Prince William County officials pronounced their newly created service authority fully operational last week when a transfer of $90 million from separate sanitary districts to a consolidated authority was completed before a July 1 deadline.
The County Board of Supervisors ordered the transfer June 28 and the authority's board of directors was given 11th-hour instructions from its lawyer and auditors during a meeting last Thursday night. The authority was to have its first full day of operation last Friday.
Until the supervisors created the authority and appointed its five-member board, the county had four sanitary districts with individual staffs and administrators whose superiors and decision makers were the supervisors.
Officials believe the consolidation of the districts will eliminate a duplication of effort, place some of the supervisors' time-consuming chores on the shoulders of the authority's board members and eliminate the districts' varying policies in regulating water and sewer activities.
But the officials still face a group of disgruntled residents who hope their lawsuit against the county will be selected by the State Supreme Court for a hearing to determine whether the authority should have been created.
The half-dozen residents named in the suit, members of Taxpayers Association for Prudent Spending, have kept a low profile since twice being denied a hearing of their suit by local courts. They say the issue is in the hands of the courts.
While both sides will have to wait months to learn whether the State Supreme Court will hear the suit, the case is not expected to be settled soon.
Anthony Guiffree, a spokesman for the disgruntled residents, said the group is unhappy with the way the county created the authority. But he said he does not oppose the concept of consolidating the sanitary districts.
"The creation of the authority is just another government entity that doesn't have to respond to the voters. It's just another autonomous body, like another appointed school board," Guiffree said. "What they are trying to create is a oneness in the county. But I think they could have done it differently by appointing a public works director or something like that."
Guiffree said he and the others also object to the amount of time given residents to respond to the Board of Supervisors' plans. He said that because his group waited until the county had finalized its plan for consolidation before voicing its objections, the opponents had only the mandated two weeks to protest before the supervisors created the authority on Dec. 21, 1982.
For the same reason, Guiffree said the taxpayers group failed to muster enough signatures on petitions calling for a referendum on the issue. He said the group got about 5 percent of the registered voters to sign--about 2,200 names--but that that was only half of what was needed.
"I think if the Board of Supervisors had taken the time and educated the citizens about what they were doing instead of going ahead, there wouldn't be this impression of cramming it down their throats," Guiffree said.
A flier published by the county and distributed widely states that Prince William is, like all other jurisdictions, empowered to create the authority by the Code of Virginia. It goes on to state that the Virginia Water and Sewer Authorities Act enables the authority to execute acts of "acquisition, construction, improvement, extension, operation and maintenance" of water and sewer systems.
Stanley M. Franklin, the service authority's lawyer, said the nonprofit corporation can only do what its contract with the Board of Supervisors allows. He said the creation of the agency merely amounts to a delegation of authority from the supervisors.
The service authority also is bound to the wishes of the supervisors through a state law that gives the board control of utility extensions through formal planning policies and procedures, Franklin said. In addition, the board may specify that its consent be necessary to undertake new projects or move into new areas. The board has so far not made that stipulation.
Raymond Spittle, the service authority's acting general manager, said the new agency is identical to those created to serve other Northern Virginia jurisdictions. He cited the Fairfax County Water, Fauquier County Water and Sanitary and Loudoun County Sanitary authorities.
Myron Olstein, of the auditing firm Coopers and Lybrand, told the service authority's board last Thursday that it should implement a list of staff recommendations by the end of the year. Olstein suggested the authority consolidate its billing, collection and accounting functions and develop its own internal financial reporting functions. Among other recommendations, Olstein said the authority should develop uniform policies and procedures.
Board Chairman Glenn S. Tarsha said the idea of uniform policies in regard to water and sewer utility requirements has excited prospective developers because differing and conflicting policies from the separate sanitary districts will be eliminated.
Tarsha said he found support when he recently spoke to the Prince William County Home Builders Association. "They are very much supportive of the authority, and they said this will bring in the outside industry that used to turn its nose up at Prince William because of all the different policies," he said.