Tryon raises water fees one percent

Published 5:38pm Monday, June 25, 2012

Council approves budget for fiscal year 2012-13
Tryon water customers’ bills will be slightly higher next fiscal year. Town council approved a new budget with a one-percent increase in water rates.
The increase equates to 15 cents more per month for residential customers inside town limits and 32 cents more per month for residential customers outside town limits who use 1,000 gallons or less per month.
Tryon Town Council met Tuesday, June 19 and recessed the meeting until Thursday, June 21 to adopt the new budget for fiscal year 2012-13.
Council originally considered also lowering the minimum gallons specification that defines the base rate, which would have caused more significant increases depending on how many gallons a user consumed, but council decided to go only with the one-percent increase.
Councilman Roy Miller said if the town increased the rates by one percent and decreased the usage allowed for the base rate, that would be a double increase.
Sewer rates are calculated at one and a half times the water rate.
Council members said they want to implement a one-percent increase in water rates for the next five fiscal years. The increase is expected to generate an additional $15,000 per year in water revenue for the town.
Other additions to the budget include a $500 Lake Lanier encroachment fee for any new structures built over the water.
Tryon water rates were a main topic of discussion between council members and customers during the town’s June 19 meeting and public hearing.
Miller said the town entertained an offer from an outside entity (Ni America) to partner and purchase the town’s water and sewer, but “let it fall by the wayside and we continually ask our citizens to pay for it.”
“In the realistic realm, we have to do something,” Miller said. “We’ve been talking about this since 2003. We’ve increased and we’ve increased. At what point are we going to talk with some outside entities? It’s up to us to make the best decisions for our citizens.”
Lake Lanier resident John Calure said Tryon’s two-tiered system of charging more for outside customers dates back to 1926 when the system was built. He said then the town figured it can’t tax outside customers but it can make them pay for the pipes.
“The pipes are paid for, I assume,” Calure said. “We are still discriminating against people outside the town.”
Calure said he’d loved to be annexed into Tryon but South Carolina won’t allow it.
Councilman George Baker said price discrimination is not against the law.
“I have never understood why the Town of Tryon bothers to give people outside the town water,” Baker said. “It costs us a great deal more to service outside.”
Calure said he challenged Baker to show him where it costs more.
Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples asked Calure if he uses Harmon Field. Calure replied “yes.” Peoples said some of Tryon Township residents who pay taxes for Harmon Field see that as a balance.
Councilman Doug Arbogast suggested another way of obtaining water revenue could be to charge a fee for people who have meters but do not have service, most likely people who are part-time residents.
Others agreed, saying the town still maintains the lines and meters for customers who are disconnected. Council said it will later discuss the possibility of charging a modest fee to the unconnected customers.
Public works director Joel Burrell said at any given time approximately 250 customers are disconnected from the town’s water service.
Other residents expressed concern over high water, sewer and garbage bills in Tryon, with one resident saying she’s asked people in other areas and no one else pays $90 a month for water and sewer.
Peoples said he must be doing something wrong because he pays $118 a month.
Business owner Bill Crowell said if residents think water bills are high, they should try paying a commercial water bill in Tryon.
Peoples said for years the town had an ABC store with profits of up to $300,000 a year, which were put into the town’s budget, and that is no longer the case. The town has taken from the general fund and used it for water/sewer in the 11 years Peoples said he’s been on council.
“My point is it’s broken,” Peoples said. “If we go to someone else (sell the system) they will fix it and they will go to the utilities commission and they will raise rates.”
Peoples said he thinks it’s inevitable the town will work to join a county-wide water system.
Miller said at some point there “has to come an end to the madness.”
“In just my opinion, we’re at that end,” Miller said.
Miller said Tryon is not growing as a city; it has lost industries and they are not coming back. He said the elderly population is dying out and new people are not coming in.
“It’s up to this board to make some hard decisions,” Miller said.
Council discussed other ways to reduce rates, with the only other option being reducing staff.
Peoples said he made the mistake one time of suggesting the three towns form a Polk County Police Department (leaving the sheriff’s office) and he thought he was going to be run out of his town.
The town did receive an offer to sell its water and sewer systems from Ni America, with the town reforming a public works committee to study the option. Tryon has also for years participated in joint discussions with Polk County, Columbus and Saluda about forming a water authority to share resources. So far, all the systems have been connected to allow resources to be shared.
Tryon’s new budget begins July 1. The total budget includes $1,623,974.58 in the general fund and $1,685,349 in the water/sewer fund.

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