Marketing strategy questioned

Oct. 10, 2013 @ 08:42 PM

Vance County commissioners want to develop a more aggressive marketing approach for the county’s water system in the hopes of increasing sign-ups and bringing down costs for customers.

Jordan McMillen, the deputy county manager and planning director, presented strategies for reaching potential customers in the next phase, which covers Dabney, Williamsboro and Townsville. But several board members thought it was inadequate and directed county staff to provide a more detailed plan at the next meeting.

McMillen proposed efforts similar to those used in phase 1A, such as direct mailings and informational brochures. He also suggested more community meetings, the use of reverse 911 calls in targeted areas and community outreach through churches and businesses.

Commissioner Deborah Brown expressed her concern that the plans would not raise enough additional sign-ups for phase two.

“I really appreciate this effort that was made to get us a marketing strategy but this is very inadequate from my standpoint,” Brown said. “I understand that you plan to do something very similar to what happened in phase 1A, which I hope is not the case. I hope you intend to do more since there is more of a challenge.”

McMillen said there are 891 sign-ups for water taps in phase 1A, and 15 dry taps as of Tuesday. There are 371 for phase 2A and 372 for phase 2B.

The county is aiming for around 2,700 signups over the next 10 years.

“I would really like to see a timeline of dates,” Brown said. “I would like to know when in January and where you plan to meet in January. These are very broad statements.”

She also wanted to know the specific information presented to citizens at these community meetings.

“We need to go a little beyond what we have done, which in my opinion has been inadequate and we need to step it up for phase 2A and B,” Brown said.

When Brown asked McMillen about the amount of money allocated in the project budget for marketing, he responded that marketing money is not at all available.

“What do you mean it’s not at all available?” Brown asked in disbelief. “We are spending all this billions of monies to get these lines in and we didn’t budget for outreach?”

Jerry Ayscue, the county manager, said the outreach budget is handled internally. Commissioner Dan Brummitt was also critical of the plan.

“I don’t see anything as far as a marketing plan of what you are going to do,” Brummitt said. “The first thing you have got to overcome is what we have got in our public comments tonight, that instead of selling $35 to $45 of water you are selling $60 of water. And then you got to overcome the fact that people have indicated they don’t want to be a part of the system.”

At Monday night’s meeting, resident Lawrence Brame told the commissioners he wanted to opt out of the system because he considered a $60 monthly water fee too excessive.

McMillen said the cost was advertised as low as $35 a month when discussions first began in the early 2000s. Since then, the costs of installing, operating and maintaining the system have gone up.

He said the county has provided 40 refunds for phase 1A. The refund policy allows an opt out if the county does not plan to run a line on a resident’s road. But customers who signed up cannot opt out if the county is already planning to run a line down their road.

When the commissioners met as the water district board on Sept. 26, they approved a water rate of $7.19 per 1,000 gallons with a base rate of $30. For example, a household that uses 4,000 gallons of water in a month would pay around $58.77.

Chairman Tommy Hester said the board determined the average household usage is around 3,600 gallons based on figures from local tier one counties including Bladen, Montgomery, Hyde and Tyrell counties.

 

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.