Members clash over water fees

Brown: Water base cost was a mistake
Aug. 05, 2014 @ 04:59 PM

Vance commissioners sparred Monday night over the validity of the county’s wet tap water agreement.

The initial agreement — handed out a few years ago when the county was promoting sign-ups — states the monthly base fee would be approximately $20.

In September, the commissioners voted to approve a $30 base fee customers are required to pay regardless of water usage.

Tensions rose among the seven board members after board chairwoman Deborah Brown was the single dissenting voice in a vote to deny two requests from residents seeking to opt out of their wet tap agreements.

“I just believe that we as a board need to realize that we don’t always make the right decision at the right time,” she said. “At some point in time, this board needs to say, ‘Let us just stop.’ They’ve stopped for three to four months on Hicksboro Road because they can’t get through because of rock. Well, our heads does not need to be as hard as rocks.”

Brown said the board made a mistake in the initial contract and is continuing the mistake by enforcing those misleading agreements.

“I do make mistakes, and this was a mistake,” she said.

One of the resident requests was tabled pending the creation of a leak policy — which Brown also took issue with.

“So you are in the process of developing a policy when the policy should have already been in place?” she said.

Commissioner Terry Garrison said he believed the county’s responsibility was clear.

“I don’t see a whole lot of need to debate this point,” he said, adding the county could either admit its error or choose not to do that. “Our integrity is at stake.”

But the county water district committee already discussed the requests, as well as adjusting the base fee, at length.

County Attorney Jonathan Care said he didn’t believe the validity of the agreement is in question.

Rather, there was miscommunication between the county and residents when the water district was initially unveiled, he said.

“For whatever reason, folks didn’t understand what they were signing,” he said.

He said the board approved the wet tap agreement but never voted on the base fee amount until September 2013.

“Until formal action was taken to establish the monthly charge, it was not determined,” he said.

Planning director Jordan McMillen said there was no error in the agreement because never provided an exact monthly fee.

During water district committee meetings, staff determined there would be a shortfall of more than $100,000 if the base fee was reduced to $20.

Commissioner Tommy Hester said decreasing the base fee would not effectively solve the problem.

“If we were to change this, we end up costing the taxpayers of this community by loaning the water department $117,000 a year,” he said.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.