By Stefanie Jackson – Exmore is keeping its options open after an Oct. 2 decision in the Northampton circuit court that will allow the county to become part of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District and negotiate a contract for HRSD to operate, maintain, and upgrade its sewer system.
“We need to play our cards close to our chest,” Town Manager Robert Duer told the town council Monday night.
Exmore needs to replace its aging sewer plant, and the town council may choose to turn over responsibility for the facility to HRSD, which would also take over setting sewer rates and billing customers.
The town’s other option is to build a new sewer plant and expand its collection system. If that option is chosen, Exmore can apply for grants and loans from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help pay for the project.
Town officials want to expand the collection system so every Exmore resident and business owner can get sewer service, up to 900 customers. Exmore is currently limited to 350 sewer customers by a Virginia Department of Health consent order.
Due to the economic impacts of COVID-19, the Virginia State Corporation Commission banned cutting off utilities due to nonpayment starting March 16. The ban ended Oct. 5, after several extensions.
That meant 48 Exmore water customers who hadn’t paid their bills were scheduled to have their water turned off Tuesday morning, Duer said.
He noted that the town would have been able to collect the money earlier if the water bills had been in the names of landowners, not renters.
The town can now collect payments for overdue water bills, but it cannot charge interest.
Duer emphasized the importance of the town getting paid for its services.
Exmore lost about $30,000 from unpaid water bills, or about a year’s salary for one town employee.
“If we can’t sell water, we can’t rent motel rooms, and we can’t eat out, it’s hard to make our budget,” he told town council members.
Duer wants to set aside funding in next year’s budget for Exmore to hire a building inspector to enforce rental and building codes.
“We’ve got some bad properties and we’ve got some bad renters, and … we need to get a grip on it,” he said.
“If we get sewer, people will build in Exmore,” Duer said.
Northampton County received more than $2 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and gave portions to each of its incorporated towns based on population.
Exmore received two installments of about $118,000 each, but the money had to be spent on things like touchless toilets and other items that prevent the spread of germs.
The town was not allowed to use the money how it wanted, for example, to cover utility bills. “So I think the best thing is to give it back to the county and let them give it to the businesses,” Duer said, referring to Northampton’s COVID-19 grant program for small businesses.
Business owners may submit or print a grant application by visiting www.co.northampton.va.us
Each business can get as much as $10,000 – up to $5,000 for business expenses or revenue losses and up to $5,000 for improvements to safeguard against COVID-19.
“Every business is getting it. The first $5,000 – all you have to do is put your name on the document and you get it,” Duer remarked.
Exmore will get its money back through sales tax revenue and business license fees as businesses are able to reopen and continue to operate, he said.
A motion was made to return Exmore’s CARES Act money to Northampton for use in the county’s small business grant program; the motion was seconded and passed unanimously.