Our Town’s Burden

2009 August 2
by Chuck Shotton

Our town has an unfair burden to bear. And it has nothing to do with the cost of water or sewer services or anything as mundane as that. It has to do with the petty, self-serving politicians we are saddled with who are continually re-elected by playing games at the expense of Leesburg residents rather than bucking up and do the tough jobs they were elected to do. We offer the following correspondence from our mayor in the context that it deserves.

Webster’s Dictionary defines:

demagogue (noun) – a politician who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power

Last week, Leesburg mayor Kristen Umstattd sent this letter [PDF download] to her political supporters, rife with misleading statistics, gross revisionist history, and a utter disregard for the facts surrounding her role as the leader in the utility rate debacle.

I’d like to take a moment to address the hypocrisy in her latest bit of pamphleteering, starting with the most egregious example of demagoguery she’s trotted out lately, her call for “class warfare” between her voters and our neighbors. I’ll address the substance (or lack thereof) of her “facts” in a subsequent post on LeesburgTalk once everyone has had a chance to read her latest work of fiction.

Umstattd writes:

“Wealthy out-of-town customers will see their water bills go down significantly, while Leesburg’s middle class families will see our bills go up…” and that “they… need cheaper water because they have larger, estate-size lawns and they want to keep them green.”

Let me start by introducing Ms. Umstattd, who lives in a $400,000 house (2008) on Foxridge Dr. in Leesburg to my friend, Mary, who is an out of town customer of Leesburg’s water and sewer utilities. Mary is a single parent raising 2 children in a small home on Sherbrooke Terrace, just outside of the eastern town limits. Mary’s home is appraised at barely 50% ($226,000 in 2008) of the “estate” that Ms Umstattd resides in. She struggles to provide for her family in tough economic times and has found that her water and sewer rates doubled in 2007 because of a punitive vote spearheaded by Ms. Umstattd and her faction on the town council to play the class warfare card in an election year.

So Mary, who struggles to make ends meet with an hourly position at a company who recently left Leesburg for a more economically enlightened town to our west, is one of those “wealthy” out of towners the mayor wants us to hate so we’ll lose sight of the fact that it was she who instigated this whole debacle in the first place. Mary is the villain in this performance being presented by our mayor, while our mayor resides comfortably on the law degrees she and her husband share, enjoying cheap and plentiful water inside town, which she voted to keep cheap and plentiful by arbitrarily raising out of town rates 100% instead of keeping up with inflation and incrementally raising the rates of all customers in an election year.

This financially unsubstantiated and politically motivated rate increase led to the obvious lawsuit (the 4th the town has incurred as a direct result of Umstattd’s “service” to the voters since her first election). And now Umstattd, an officer of the court, seems to be advocating contempt of court in her letter as well by calling for a 100% or greater punitive surcharge on out of town water users without any statistical or cost data to warrant it. This is in utter disregard for Judge Horne’s order that mandates that the town reduce out of town rates by 45.51%.

Is there really any good reason for Leesburg to continue to allow this demagoguery to persist?

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4 Responses
  1. 2:17pm August 3 2009
    Leesburgian permalink

    Didn’t Barber and Ross go bankrupt after they moved to Winchester? I read that some of the owners created a new company, but Barber and Ross no longer exists. Not sure what would have been different if they’d stayed in Leesburg.

  2. 11:33pm August 2 2009
    swisshegemonist permalink

    From the River Creek Owners Association Property Maintenance Standards documentation:

    Turf areas and other vegetation should be watered during dry periods to maintain a green color.

    Is “should” in essence a mandated “must be watered”? Would one be fined if their turf did not meet some unquantifiable “standard”?

    Grass, other than recently laid sod or germinating grass seed, will go dormant in periods of dry weather. Hardly responsible conservation, particularly in the Virginia Piedmont.

    Brilliant:

    “Encouraging more conservation at a time when we have excess capacity doesn’t seem to make sense,” Curley said of the plan to increase the rate charged for high-volume users.

    To quote Ben Franklin:

    When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.

    post hoc ergo propter hoc:

    Shotten residence

    Umstattd residence

    Estate? Hardly…

    Also, does Barber & Ross supply a transportation subsidy to its Leesburg employees to get to Winchester, post-move?

    • 8:27am August 3 2009

      I think you pretty much missed all the points in the article. Let me go slowly…

      1. The mayor is using the same tactic (i.e., “stick it to the rich”) that she used in 2006, prior to the election, to get the 100% surcharge passed with no fiscal analysis. She is singularly the reason the town was sued successfully over utility rates. Her demagoguery continues to pander to the 1500 starry-eyed that voted for her at the expense of all of the rest of us in town, who she most assuredly does not represent or speak for when she natters on about the evil rich people in their gated communities. She cannot play this card again. It was a disaster for the town and I think the rest of the council recognizes it now. The problem is that she will cast the lone vote against raising rates and play herself to be a hero of the little people when, in fact, she is an out of touch politician who would rather sacrifice the financial health of our utility system for her personal gain at the ballot box.

      2. She is a hypocrite, trying to blame the “rich people” in River Creek. Truth is that there are more out of town customers living in the decidedly middle class neighborhoods to the east of town than in River Creek. And her household comprised of 2 lawyers living in what was a half million dollar house until recently certainly is more “estate-like” than a single mom working for $24/hour and living in a townhouse with no lawn to water or pool to fill. (As an aside, I’m not sure what the point was of the links to peoples’ houses above. My point was sarcastic, to show the mayor’s decidedly upscale home in context with a house that represents a completely average non-River Creek home for out of town utility customers. Yours was…?)

      3. Umstattd is disingenuous at best when it comes to statistics and her past role in this. Her letter would have you believe Judge Horne told the town it was OK to keep the surcharge. She’d have you believe that she had nothing to do with the disastrous lawsuit, and she wants her rank and file to go after the few on the council who are trying to clean up the mess that she and earlier councils made. And she wants everyone to ignore the fact that a gallon of water sold to River Creek costs just as much to make as a gallon of water sold to a Leesburg resident. Instead, she wants you to subscribe to her defective belief system where people she perceives as “rich” should have an obligation to somehow pay more than people of more modest means. Unfortunately, she needs to see point 2. I would guess that the median household income of in-town and out of town residents closely matches the median for Loudoun Co. as a whole. So playing the class warfare card seems all the more desperate and deceptive in that light.

      At the end of the day, Umstattd has done immeasurable harm to progress in Leesburg, yet she continues to get re-elected by pulling carefully orchestrated stunts like this. She manipulates an issue to present herself as the lone voice of reason on the council and gets others who aren’t motivated by personal politics to do the hard work for her. She knows what she is doing is wrong and yet she persists. That alone is reason enough to show her the door, independently of the insult this letter represents to our town.

      • 8:45am August 3 2009

        And as a point of clarification, let me add that while I think the mayor is completely out of line by suggesting a 100% or more surcharge on out of town water and sewer rates, I do believe that some price differential between in- and out-of-town customers is justified. The problem is that no one has actually done a legitimate analysis that documents what the intangible and indirect costs are to Leesburg taxpayers.

        Since the Utility Fund that operates the water and sewer plants is an enterprise fund, it is required by law to be self-supporting and to conform to GAAP. It is also required to maintain cash reserves and positive cash flow. What isn’t clear when trying to analyze the Utility Fund’s balance sheets is how much in the way of overhead services are provided by the town and not reimbursed from the fund. That is the only legitimate delta between the in-town and out-of-town rates and no one has ever documented it. But you can bet it isn’t 100%…

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