Kittrell's water project is still accepting sign-ups

Oct. 01, 2013 @ 09:09 PM

KITTRELL — Expansions and polices won’t change because of a separate county water project, and cutting-edge technology in meters used by only seven other systems in the state won’t raise rates for customers in the Kittrell Water Association.

Depending on how many sign up, the project could be worth $5.5 million.

The association has been providing water to several hundred homes, schools, churches and businesses since 1968 in the southern end of Vance County. About seven years ago, KWA began a journey to secure a revenue bond to fund a project to expand beyond their base of nearly 400 service connections serving about 1,000 people in and near the town.

That was soon after Mark Woodlief came to work for the association. Now the vice president of the association, Woodlief hopes KWA customers and potential customers understand that the expansion is taking place, and policies to charge the $10 base rate will not be impacted by the county’s system.

“We charge a $10 base rate plus $9 per 1,000 gallons of use,” Woodlief said. “We did that on purpose so moderate to low-income households could save more if they use less. It gives them options.”

Leonard Hight, a member of the Kittrell water board, said a primary concern for board members has always been fixed-income households, senior citizens in particular, who can use 1,000 gallons and pay less than $20.

“This is very concerning to our board,” Hight said. “This is why we continually look for ways to reduce our rates. We are a non-profit. We believe our water is definitely going to be cheaper than what the county rate is now.”

The base fee for county system customers regardless of water usage is set at $30, and the water rate is $7.19 per 1,000 gallons.

Woodlief said that even at 10,000 gallons, ranging into the scope of commercial water usage, the Kittrell rate would add up to $100 and the county total would still be slightly higher.

Woodlief added that applications so far from new customers would more than double the customer base of the KWA utility. If more sign up, the customer numbers could triple, and that level of response would help drive usage prices down more.

Its territory is slated to include the southern end of Vance County below Watkins and Henderson, from the intersection of U.S. 1 with Bearpond Road and taking in the Lynnbank, Bobbitt and Gillburg areas south to the Tar River.

According to Woodlief, Vance County leaders apparently assumed that the county’s $4.8 million phase 1B project in the original plan would incorporate the Kittrell utility into it. He said that idea had to be set aside because of USDA rules.

“The USDA will not allow water systems to compete with each other,” Woodlief said. “The county had to stop their project into our area because the USDA required that. We were already in the process of beginning our project.”

The KWA project is looking for more customers, and the scope of work to lay new water mains for hookups could total as high as $5.5 million, according to Woodlief.

Hight added that it is important for potential customers to sign up now. Survey work is done in some expansion areas and engineers are in the process of drawing lines for where new water mains will go. Waiting could result in a main being directed away, causing a road to lose access for the foreseeable future.

“We are still in the process of signing people up,” Hight said.

Woodlief and Hight said an example of success in their search to secure better service for less cost is a deal they struck with Wake Electric Membership Corporation for a meter management system applying the newest technology to the concept of radio-read meters.

In the management system’s radio-read technology, billing can all be monitored online. The system also has a leak detection capability.

If non-payment of an account causes a cutoff, the bill can be paid and the water turned back on, by the customer, online.

“The cutting-edge system is more advanced than what most public water systems use,” Hight said. “It means we will be able to provide greater services to our customers.”

“We will be the eighth water system in North Carolina to implement the system,” Woodlief said.

Approved interest-free funding has been secured for purchase of the electronic meters, and payments will draw from redirected expense savings because of items that will no longer be needed for the system to operate.

“This totally avoids any costs to KWA customers,” Woodlief said.

 

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.