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Sewer focus of most annexation questions

Residents in Tryon&squo;s proposed annexation area seem mostly concerned with the town&squo;s plan to service much of the area with a low pressure sewer system and how much that system is going to cost homeowners.

Tryon Town Council held an informational meeting Tuesday&bsp; at which residents in town and in the annexation area asked questions and received answers to most of their questions about the involuntary annexation proposal.

Questions ranged from how much the new system&squo;s pumps will cost, the life of the pumps and how much residents&squo; electric bills will increase to run the pumps. Some questions were not answered, because officials said the questions had to be specific to the annexation report.

John McHenry of Benchmark CMR Services and Joel Woods, the town&squo;s engineer on the project, answered most of residents&squo; questions.

Fred Gerdes, a resident in the proposed annexation area, questioned why the town omitted utility franchise fees from the report and said the town&squo;s revenue from the annexation as he figures it should be closer to $500,000 annually instead of the $167,000 estimates based on what new residents will pay for the sewer service. Gerdes also reviewed data from the N.C. Treasurer&squo;s Office that said since 2003, utility costs for Tryon have increased 35 percent, with property taxes over 70 percent higher than the state average and utility costs 246 percent higher than the state average.

F.K. McFarland, a resident in the proposed annexation area asked several questions, including how much pumps cost, the electrical cost estimates, what happens when the power is out and who will pay for any cleanup needed. He also asked how confident the town is about its engineering estimates for sewer service.

McFarland also asked if the town has included expenses in the plan to defend the action in court. Officials responded that&bsp; those figures are not included.

Woods said the town will need approximately 89 pumps to service the area using the low pressure system, with each pump costing $5,600. The life of pumps is 20 years and the average electrical bill expense to homeowners is an average of $2 to $3 per month, according to Woods. There is also a 3-day capacity for anytime the power is out and the town will be responsible for any cleanup following a power outage, Woods said.

Woods also said the town is estimating to spend about $18,000 per home to extend its sewer service. He said actual costs are typically within 10 percent of his estimates, and the budget includes at least a 10 percent contingency in case of project overruns.

Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples said the town may consider lowering those homeowners&squo; sewer bills to compensate for the higher electrical bills. Caroline Chapman asked if the town is going to lower&bsp; electrical bills in the annexation area, why doesn&squo;t it for the Tuckaway Lane area. That area of town recently got the same low pressure system and residents are now paying increased power bills.

Chapman also asked a question for Dennis Barker, a part-time resident, who asked how the town is going to deal with a low pressure sewer system on top of Hogback Mountain. McHenry answered that is not in the plan and Chapman questioned why not, considering annexed residents are supposed to have the same services as in town residents. McHenry said he&squo;d get back to her on that question. Chapman also said she lives in town and doesn&squo;t have sewer service.

Other questions concerned tap fees, whether residents would have to hook up to town sewer and if they didn&squo;t would they have to pay a sewer bill anyway.

Town Attorney Bailey Nager said currently the town&squo;s policy does not require residents to hook up to sewer or pay a sewer bill, but council may want to change that policy and can change it at
anytime. Last year the plan was for annexed residents to pay a minimum sewer bill whether or not they chose to hook up to the system.

Residents also questioned the tap fees for the gravity sewer connections, which are $600 for current residents and would be the same for annexed residents, officials said.

Tommy Burrell, a resident in the annexation area, asked if the installation of street lights is included in the plans, and the answer was no. Burrell also asked why some people were in the former annexation plan, but not in this one.

&dquo;How&squo;d they get out?&dquo; Burrell asked.

McHenry said he tried to make servicing the area as easy as possible and the area had to meet statutory requirements.

&dquo;No people were singled out, I can assure you that,&dquo; said McHenry.

Darlene McFarland, a resident of the annexation area, questioned if the life of a sewer pump is 20 years and the town is financing the project for 40 years, has the town estimated costs for two pumps per home? The answer was that those costs weren&squo;t included in the plan and Woods said the town could have the opportunity to seek a state revolving loan that would be for 20 years.

&dquo;Hopefully everybody realizes it&squo;s going to be a whole lot more than they&squo;re saying,&dquo; Darlene McFarland said.

Phillip McMillan, also a resident of the annexation area, questioned homeowner cost for the low pressure sewer system.

&dquo;I&squo;m still trying to get a grip on how much it&squo;s going to cost each of us,&dquo; McMillan said.

He asked who would pay for the tank (for the low pressure sewer), the removal of old septic tanks and landscaping for any damage done during construction.

Woods answered that the town will pay for all of the items mentioned in McMillan&squo;s question.

The town&squo;s next meeting on the annexation plan will be held on April 16. It will be a public hearing where residents in town and in the annexation area will have the opportunity to voice their opinions concerning the plan.