By Debbie Adams
On December 7, 2021, representatives from Vinton Town Council and the Western Virginia Water Authority (WVWA) announced that the town would transfer ownership and operation of the Vinton Water and Wastewater System to the Authority on July 1, 2022.
Back in August 2021, Vinton and Roanoke County leaders began initial discussions about the transfer.
In September, the WVWA joined the discussions to “paint the broad strokes of the agreement,” according to Assistant Town Manager Cody Sexton. They continued to meet throughout October and November to consider major questions to be resolved regarding the transfer. All parties agreed to move forward. The town’s Human Resources Department began working with the WVWA Human Resources Department on the impacts on employees who would move to the WVWA.
On December 3, the town leadership met with town staff to inform them of the proposed transfer, and then the move was made public on December 7.
Throughout December 2021, the Vinton’s Planning and Zoning staff met with the WVWA staff regarding engineering standards, site plan review, and development questions. Coordination between the two staffs will continue throughout the project.
Meanwhile, in back in August the town had undertaken a previously planned and budgeted water meter replacement project, updating meters for residential and commercial customers, which, in January, has replaced one-third of residential meters and 50% of commercial ones. The town expects the project to be completed before the transfer of services to the WVWA this summer—a milestone for the town.
Another milestone project is replacement of the 3rd Street Sewer Lift Station, begun in January, which has been “looped in” with the WVWA transfer.
There were many meetings during January between the town’s Steering Committee, Roanoke County, and the WVWA leadership for the purpose of drafting and then circulating the master transfer agreement.
Customer Service and Billing Teams began meeting in January. Town staff and WVWA utility and engineering staff have begun transferring and converting customer and billing data. Work is beginning to finalize the customer transfer date and to adopt the final billing schedule. Town staff has worked to refine the data for the Authority.
An Infrastructure and Operations Team has begun meeting as well. The town and WVWA utility and engineering staff have been discussing systems operations and scheduling tours of the town’s utility for the Authority that will take them over in July. Sexton noted that citizens will be seeing WVWA utility vehicles in the town as this process continues. WVWA staff are touring well sites. Land transfers are being researched. The Authority will begin sending crews to town around May 1.
In January, Town Attorney Jeremy Carroll focused on a review of the Town Ordinance in regard to utility provisions. Planning and Zoning began an inventory of the utility properties for ownership transfer.
On January 25, the town and the WVWA hosted an open house at the Vinton War Memorial to gain public input and answer questions from the public about the pending transfer.
In February, the town and Roanoke County will update a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding utility service and cost-sharing considered by both governing bodies.
Also in February, town staff impacted by the transfer will shadow WVWA staff in positions related to theirs.
From February through April the plan is for staff teams to continue to meet and finalize details of the transfer.
An anticipated Master Transfer Agreement is expected to be finalized in May and approved by the town and the WVWA– and celebrated with a signing ceremony.
In May, Town Council will also be considering ordinance updates. The WVWA will begin assisting with water breaks and other routine operations for hands-on learning of the system prior to the final transfer.
Customer data will be finalized; customers will receive information on upcoming changes to billing information.
It is anticipated that on June 11, customer data will be converted to the Authority.
The final utility bill customers receive from the town will be due and processed by the town on June 18.
On July 1, the Western Virginia Water Authority will assume ownership of the utility system and current customers will become “new fresh customers with the WVWA,” Sexton said.
Sexton presented this timeline to Town Council at its annual retreat on February 11– to “memorialize where we’ve been, and how we got here” in an overview. He commented that the process of transferring ownership and operations has been “eye-opening” to say the least, with so many parts of the puzzle and steps in the process to pull this transfer together.
For questions about the transfer of water/wastewater operations from the Town of Vinton to the Western Virginia Water Authority visit: https://www.westernvawater.org/about-us/newsroom/town-of-vinton-utility-transfer.