~ PVN staff report
LURAY, Sept. 27 — During last week’s work session, the Luray Council discussed the potential purchase and installation of about 2,400 remote water meters that will allow the Town to distribute more accurate billing and quickly pinpoint problems such as leaks.
A public hearing regarding a $750,000 General Obligation Bond to complete the project has been set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the Council’s regular monthly meeting in Town Hall. The remote water meters, related software and other associated costs could total about $1.3 million.
“I think there is a benefit in terms of customer service in terms of what we can provide,” Councilman Jerry Schiro said during the Sept. 27 work session. “I think it’s a great management tool…for both sides, because of the data we can obtain from a system like this.”
Stanley Town Manager Terry Pettit and Stanley Treasurer Leon Stout gave the Luray Council a presentation on the remote water meter system that Stanley put in place several years ago. Pettit said the remote meters were extremely accurate and reduced the time it took to collect data.
“What took four people three days…now takes two people about two hours,” Pettit said. “As soon as we turn on the laptop, it reads about 200.”
The Stanley manager said the Town’s revenue grew about 10 percent ($30,000 to $40,000) from “what we were losing” — meaning many customers were being under-billed due to inaccurate readings.
“The biggest factor [with the remote readers] is that 99.9 percent of those readings are accurate,” Pettit added.
Luray would need about 2,400 meters to upgrade its system, compared to 1,500 in Stanley. It cost Stanley $414,000 for its system, and they financed about $293,000. The overall cost to Luray of $1.3 million could have up to $750,000 potentially being borrowed through a construction loan with Blue Ridge Bank and the remainder being provided by the Town, most likely from ARAP funds. The Luray Council has left the option open to pay more money up front and lower the amount of a 10-year note.
“I have a really hard time justifying it,” Councilman Joey Sours said. “I don’t really see the return on investment.”
Luray officials have been discussing the potential advantages of remote readers for several years, but the overall price tag seemed to end the conversation. Now, some council members see the long-term advantages with new housing being constructed, coupled with the flow of federal dollars into local projects.
“Whether we do it now, five years from now or 10 years…I feel we’re going to have electronic meters one day, that’s just where everyone’s going to…this could be the opportunity we have…with these funds sitting here,” Councilman Ligon Webb said last week. “We’ve been talking about it for 14 or 15 years…we never considered it because it was such a significant expense, but I think we have an opportunity here to pull it off.”
“If it added enough value, we would have taken the money out for it before,” Sours responded. “We took the money out for a ball field because we thought it had enough value to be worth it for the Town…so if it’s only when we get free money that we’re willing to do it, it’s not of that much value…otherwise we would do it…and we still have pipes in the ground that we know need to be replaced, so is this the best use of the money?”
“I think we can get in on the ground floor as we continue to grow…and have a good system in place that’s easy to build on to,” Schiro said. “If it wasn’t for ARPA funding, I would agree… but I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Those wishing to weigh-in at Tuesday’s public hearing should arrive early and sign a list for speakers.
In other business at its Sept. 27 work session, the Luray Council also:
• Discussed the potential selection of Racey Engineering to perform construction engineering services for the Memorial Drive corridor improvements and the Luray Landing sewer pump station project through the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission’s On-Call Consulting Program. Costs for construction engineering services for the Memorial Drive project are $78,600, while the Luray Landing project is $285,920. In addition, the Town will have to pay $2,500 for each project as a NSVRC program fee. A vote on the issue in expected at the Council’s Oct. 11 meeting.
• Decided to wait until George Comer’s schedule allows before presenting him a Proclamation of Appreciation for his recent donations of photographs, a Civil War-era sword, a Civil War-era spur, an antique mercury glass vase, a D.H. Henkel Stonyman Stoneware jar, and a George Pollack Skyland bench. While the bench will sit among the displays at the train depot (Visitors Center), the Town intends to display other items in the lobby of Town Hall, while sharing photos on social media. Comer is currently traveling and the presentation will be scheduled upon his return to Luray.
• Discussed a request for a Special Use Permit by Harbor Holding Company to operate a lodging house at 303 Luray Avenue, zoned High-Density Residential (R-4). A lodging house is commonly defined as a residential building, other than a hotel, motel or bed-and-breakfast home, where lodging is provided for compensation on a regular basis, pursuant to previous arrangements, but which is not open to the public or transient guests, for no longer than thirty (30) consecutive days. Meals may be provided to the residents in a central location; however, no provisions shall be made for cooking in individual rooms or units. The maximum number of guests shall be two per bedroom with on-site parking for all guests. Other requirements being attached to the permit include a maximum of six guests, off-street parking, one sign not to exceed four feet square, meals only for guests, business license, transient occupancy tax, meals tax, and the permit shall not transfer upon sale. The Luray Planning Commission held a public hearing on Sept. 14 and unanimously recommended approval. The Council has a public hearing set for Tuesday, Oct. 11.
• Discussed the preliminary layout of the Yagers Spring greenway extension and the potential to partner with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation for a proposed park around the old iron foundry north of the spring. If the Town were to donate the property to the Hawksbill Greenway Foundation, they could then in turn partner with the SVBF on development and operation of the park based on its historical value. Town Manager Steve Burke said that after a meeting with the non-profit’s CEO, he believes they have a strong desire to get involved in a project in Page County, where they currently do not have a presence. Council members expressed a desire to retain property around Yagers Spring, as it is considered a future water source. Burke stated that a small portion around the old iron foundry could be donated, while still preserving and protecting the area around the spring. “If we gave just the area of the park, it would be to the benefit of everyone,” he said.
• Continued discussion on a Code Amendment to Chapter 26 — Buildings and Building Regulations of the Town Code — and to Article IX of Chapter 78, to establish regulations on blighted properties and derelict buildings. No new information was presented. Town Manager Steve Burke said that due to associated costs ranging up to $50,000 or more, the program may only target a couple of properties per year. “It is intended for the worst of the worst,” he said. The policy change would call for a program to identify qualifying properties, notify the owner, require an abatement plan, and then provide action for the Town to pursue is plan is not developed and submitted within 90 days of notification. Penalties could include a $500 fine for each month of non-compliance up to an amount equivalent of the cost of demolition.
• Discussed a request from Ramsey Inc. for a boundary line adjustment with the county to bring 5.61 acres at Fairview Estates that includes 14 residential lots into Town limits so the developer can take advantage of in-town water and sewer rates and fees. The developer plans to build duplexes after applying for a rezoning to allow a higher residential density. Both the Council and the Page County Board of Supervisors have held public hearings on the issue, but neither has taken a vote. Some members of council still have concerns over access to Ellis Drive and future maintenance of the road. The developer has produced a deed and 2022 Real Estate Tax Statement that confirms his ownership of at least a portion of Ellis Drive, to which Arthur Lane (within the subdivision) is proposed to connect. The developer has stated that a HOA would fund future road maintenance. Both the Town and County are consulting with legal counsel.
• Continued discussions on the use of ARPA funds, including recommendations that $350,000 be used toward the remote water meters project, $5,000 for a display case for donated items, and $1,500 for a First Night event in downtown. A list of requests from the Police Department, Parks and Rec, and the Water Department were also reviewed. No decisions were made.