Commissioners, county looking to make ends meet, customers happy

Jan. 06, 2014 @ 09:03 PM

The Vance County water system is finally turned on for homes in phase one, and construction on the second phase has begun this week.

But some residents are now worried about the costs.

“You know, I was really excited when the county started talking about water due to my age and working on a well all my life, I was getting too old to fool with it,” said Vance County resident Lawrence Brame. “Now, it’s $30 and I get nothing for it and something needs to be done to reduce the costs of this water system for the citizens of Vance County. It needs to be a win-win situation and, to me, its not a win-win situation.”

When the county water project was first discussed several years ago, Brame said a $20 base fee was proposed. The county commissioners approved a $30 base fee and water rate of $7.19 per 1,000 gallons in September.

At the water district committee meeting Monday, Brame and his neighbor, Jesse Stem, expressed their concerns about the increased base fee, which is charged regardless of water usage.

Deputy County Manager Jordan McMillen has said customers who signed up cannot opt out if the county is already planning to run a line down their road.

The refund policy allows an opt out if the county does not plan to run a line on a resident’s road.

Brame and Stem argued they will still be charged $30, even if they never connect to the system.

“In Vance County, you are going to pay $30 whether you use it or not,” Brame said.

Commissioner Dan Brummitt said he worried that the customers in the next phase of the system would not be able to support the costs.

“My main concern when we initiated phase 2A and 2B was that we are nowhere near 12 houses per mile in the part we are fixing to construct,” he said.

The grant funding that the county received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was provided for the construction of water lines if the county secured at least 12 customers registered per mile.

“I would say that is accurate on many roads,” said McMillen. “The issue is what the engineer told us at the time was that we would need to build the backbone of system where the customers are not really located, which is the main roads, to get where the customers are, which is the subdivisions. I would say there are roads that do not meet the 12 sign-ups per mile in phase 2.”

McMillen explained the higher water bill resulted from a smaller project and less customers.

“Now, we were not able to build as much of the system and get the volume of customers that was projected at that time,” he said. “Basically, USDA was always going to give us the money that they gave us, but we had planned to build the system larger.”

County Manager Jerry Ayscue said the cost of construction increased from when cost projections were initially made in 2008.

Brummitt said the current pricing structure could discourage people from signing up after construction has finished.

“It’s a relatively similar cost to a well and that is not going to encourage people to sign up,” he said.

After construction, residents who want to sign up will have to pay a connection charge of $1,100, a capacity charge of $2,000, as well as a water meter charge, the cost of the meter and an account deposit fee.

The committee discussed the possibility of waiving the $2,000 capacity fee for a short period, but did not take official action. The full board of commissioners met later Monday evening in regular session.

 

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.