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Towns to spend $1.83M to do water projects without county

The three towns are considering financing $611,000 each and paying that amount back through additional fees to water customers. The towns of Tryon and Saluda approved resolutions Tuesday night agreeing to add a user fee, and Columbus meets tonight to consider the same resolution.

Saluda&squo;s user fee could be the highest. City commissioners agreed to add a fee up to $5.69 per month in case the county does not partcipate in the project. Tryon&squo;s fee would be $1.75 per month and the fee in Columbus, if approved tonight, would be $3.50 per month.

The emergency water projects proposed by the towns include a water line between Tryon and Saluda, a booster pump on an existing line connecting Columbus and Tryon and the rehabilitation of Tryon&squo;s mountain water source intake.

The total cost for the projects is estimated at $3.43 million. Without the county&squo;s participation, the towns plan to spend about $1.83 million of their own money, and the rest would come through grants.

Each of the three municipalities is expected to receive $432,000 from the N.C. Rural Center for the projects. Tryon also plans to obtain a $300,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Polk County was also expected to get $432,000 from the N.C. Rural Center since it applied along with the towns for a total of $1.73 million in grant funding.

Previously, Polk County was going to provide $1.43 million to meet the match requirement for the grant, and the towns would not have had to contribute anything. But the county was requiring that at least one of the towns, most likely Saluda, commit to buying some water from the county&squo;s water system in the future.

On Monday the county approved a proposed inter-local agreement in which it would still contribute the $1.43 million, but in exchange would require ownership of the line between Tryon and Saluda.

The county proposed that it would be responsible for the line between Saluda and Tryon, Columbus would be responsible for the booster pump on the line connecting Columbus and Tryon and Tryon would be responsible for rehabilitation of its mountain water source.

If the county does not reach an agreement with the towns and does not participate in the water projects, it cannot receive the $432,000 it&squo;s expected to get as part of the N.C. Rural Center grant.

During the Tryon meeting Tuesday, officials said if the county does not contribute its $432,000 it would be unfortunate, and that money would be &dquo;thrown to the wind.&dquo;

The county can use its portion of the rural center grant only to participate in the three emergency projects. Without the county&squo;s share of the grant, the towns will have to proceed with their rate hikes.

Saluda&squo;s base inside water rate could increase from $20 to as much as $25.69 and outside water rate could increase from $37.30 to $42.99.

Tryon&squo;s inside base water rate would increase from $16.31 (including an already existing water meter user fee of $1.60 per month) to $18.06 and outside water rates would go up from $33.90 (with meter charge) to $35.65.

If Columbus approves its proposed resolution tonight, its base inside water rates could increase from $15.54 to $19.04 and outside base water rates would increase from $30.03 to $33.53.

The towns of Tryon and Columbus have also mentioned other rate increases on top of paying for the emergency water projects. Tryon has a long-term budget plan for water and sewer improvements that has included rate increases for the past several years through 2011. Columbus has proposed a three-to-five- percent increase in its rates next year in order to pay for upcoming capital improvements.