Commissioners approve changes to county waterline extension policyPublished 12:21am Monday, October 14, 2013
Polk County commissioners voted 4-1 Monday, Oct. 7 to no longer provide a 60/40 funding split for waterline extensions along private roads.
Ray Gasperson said he was against preventing private road residences from being able to participate in waterline projects with county help.
“First, like all 100 counties in North Carolina, Polk County is not in the county road business. Therefore, Polk County should not draw a distinction between citizens who live along DOT maintained roads and those who live on private subdivision roads, so long as these roads have proper right-of-ways for waterline construction and maintenance and also demonstrate the ability for road maintenance (such as through a homeowners association),” Gasperson said. “To draw a distinction would be like treating citizens along private roads like second class citizens.”
The new ordinance continues the county’s practice of offering to pay 60 percent when waterlines are extended along public roads, while the property owner pays 40 percent. However, it prohibits the county from doing so in cooperation with citizens on private roads.
“Citizens want you to tell us why you have declared that those of us who pay the same Polk County taxes as everyone else, but in addition personally pay out of our own pockets to build and maintain the roads we live on, will be denied the benefit of our own tax dollars to bring county waterlines to our homes under the majority’s new waterline extension policy,” said Renee McDermott.
Commissioner Tom Pack said the policy doesn’t prohibit waterlines from being constructed on private roads.
“This doesn’t eliminate waterlines from being run on private roads,” said Pack. “We’re just saying the county is not going to participate in paying for lines on private roads that we can’t guarantee will be maintained.”
Previously, the ordinance did say the county would consider 60/40 financing for lines running to “existing residences or businesses” located on public roads, but this language was removed to account for future business and residence.
Amendments to the county’s policy also eliminate the designation of specific tap fees and instead require residents to pay tap fees “equal to the actual cost of a tap” or “according to an approved schedule.” Commissioners will now reconsider that schedule of fees each budget year.
County attorney Jana Berg also changed the policy to say the commission has the right to “adjust” tap fees, instead of “increase” tap fees as the language previously stated. This, she said, would allow the commission to lower tap fees if it sees fit to do so as well.
Commissioner Ted Owens said after spending many years off and on the commission, he remembers too well the old highway system and how an individual had to be of the right party to get their roads scraped. He said he felt the old waterline extension policy opened the door for the same type of back door deals, but if the policy restricts 60/40 payment splits by the county to public roads, it would be less likely that someone of a particular party would be able to get the county to pay for a large portion of the costs to run a line.
“I think we open our doors to any board of commission choosing whether or not they’re going to run [a waterline]. I think the old policy opens up the deal of showing favoritism,” Owens said.
Gasperson said he doesn’t feel he’s seen political favoritism in relation to waterlines since he’s been on the council. He said the most compelling reason he sees for keeping the 60/40 participation plan for private roads is heightened public safety.
“I became very aware of how important waterline extensions with fire hydrants are after I was approached in 2010 by representatives from the Green Creek Community Center and asked if it was possible to have public water extended to the Center,” Gasperson said. “The resulting waterline and fire hydrant has greatly enhanced public health and safety for the Center, the church across the road and nearby residences.”
McDermott spoke up again in the meeting saying she saw no logical basis for what she called “discrimination” between citizens. She said she felt the commission was violating equal protection of citizens.
Commission chair Michael Gage asked county attorney Jana Berg if the commission would be breaking any state or federal rules by making these changes to the policy.
Berg answered that the stipulations were not affecting any group of protected individuals. Berg said McDermott cited equal protection of citizens, which means the commission does need a rational basis for making a distinction between individuals living along private roads and individuals living on public roads.
Berg said that rational basis is the requirement for maintenance standards. She said the changes to the waterline extension policy are based on the need for maintenance of roads in which the county is offering to pay a portion of costs. In this case, Berg said that would be the rational basis for only providing a 60/40 payment split to individuals along public roads as they are maintained by the state of North Carolina.
Berg added the state of North Carolina follows a set of maintenance standards that cannot be quarantined on roads inside subdivisions or on other privately maintained roads.