Mayor answers Chapman’s concerns on annexation costs

Published 2:45 pm Monday, April 14, 2008

The mayor, who has been a strong proponent of the town&squo;s annexation plans, says he trusts the cost estimates provided to the town in an annexation report prepared by Benchmark CMR, a planning services firm for local governments. He adds that engineer Joel Wood, whose job it is to plan and implement infrastructure projects,&bsp; did much of the work to come up with the cost estimates.

In an interview this week with the Bulletin, Mayor Peoples provided his answers to several concerns offered by councilman Austin Chapman regarding the cost estimates for the town&squo;s annexation (see story page 9).

Police services: Peoples says the town is not calculating police manpower costs on a per-mile basis but rather a per-resident basis. He says the town currently employs eight full-time officers and has 7.5 patrol positions given that chief Jeff Arrowood spends half of his time with non-patrol, chief duties.

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That force gives the town close to one patrol officer for every 237 residents in the town. If the annexation is approved and the town adds one police officer as planned, that ratio would increase only slightly to about one patrol officer for every 257 residents.

Peoples says it&squo;s up to the town council to provide the resources needed for the police department to do its job, and up to Chief Arrowwood to determine how to allocate them in shifts. Peoples says he expects the town will be able to maintain at least two patrol officers on each shift.

He adds that the annexation area does not include much commercial properties that can require more police coverage at times.

But he acknowledges that having an additional patrol vehicle will result in higher costs for gas and maintenance. The town has figured that it would spend about $42,000 more in the police department following the annexation, including about $33,000 for another officer, $5,000 in debt service for another vehicle and about $4,000 for gas and maintenance.

Fire services: Peoples says the town has always planned to add fire hydrants in areas of its fire district, including the proposed annexation area. Therefore, that expense is expected, he says, with or without the annexation.

The mayor says the town does not know at this point how many additional fire hydrants will be needed in the area to make sure every house is within 1,000 feet of a hydrant. That proximity would mean a reduction in the town&squo;s fire insurance rating for those areas and a subsequent reduction in fire insurance rates for residents.

The proposed annexation area already has some fire hydrants, notes Peoples, and may not need many more.

Street maintenance: Peoples disagrees with councilman Chapman&squo;s claim that the budget for streets should climb by 50 percent because the town would have 50 percent more street mileage after the annexation.

Peoples says that claim does not account for &dquo;economies of scale,&dquo; noting that Tryon already has the equipment to maintain streets.

&dquo;We don&squo;t have to buy all new equipment,&dquo; says Peoples. &dquo;Yes, there will be some additional wear and tear, but not that much.&dquo;

The mayor adds that part of Carolina Drive in the annexation area is owned and maintained by the state, and Tryon will be getting $29,445 more in Powell Bill money from the state to help maintain the additional road mileage gained through the annexation.

Sanitation services: Peoples says it&squo;s unclear how much the town may have to spend to compensate private, trash contractors currently serving the
annexation area. The law requires the town to compensate them during the first two years following the annexation.

The town will have to negotiate, he says, with the two contractors currently in the area.

He adds that it&squo;s possible the town may be able to reduce its overall garbage pickup by going to mandatory recycling. The town currently provides garbage pickup twice per week, and recycling pickup once per week. Peoples suggests the town could go to garbage pickup once a week if recycling is mandatory, causing residents to leave much less in their trash.

&dquo;We&squo;ve already talked about that. I&squo;m not the only one proposing it,&dquo; says Peoples.

The mayor says he believes many Tryon residents would be willing to &dquo;step up to the plate&dquo; and recycle more to also benefit the environment.

After the initial two-year period expires and the town is no longer required to compensate the contractors, the town would see substantially reduced costs for sanitation services.

Water service: The mayor agrees with councilman Chapman&squo;s point that water revenue will decline following the annexation. Residents in the annexation area who are currently paying higher, outside water rates will switch to a lower, inside base rate.

But Peoples points out that the town will gain additional revenue in its enterprise fund through new sewer customers. Most of the estimated 192 habitable dwellings in the annexation area currently receive town water, but do not receive town sewer service.

Sewer service: As councilman Chapman contends, it is possible that costs could rise to extend the town&squo;s sewer system to the annexation area, says Peoples. But he says he doesn&squo;t think the cost will be much above the $2.032 million currently estimated.

Peoples says engineer Woods has carefully analyzed the project to make sure the estimate is accurate.

The mayor acknowledges Chapman&squo;s points that residents in the annexation area may face some additional expenses as a result of switching to the town&squo;s sewer system.

The town should look at compensating residents for the estimated $2 to $3 more in electricity costs they may see if they use the low-pressure pump systems the town plans to install in some areas with steep grades.

Residents using the pumps may also need generators for backup in case the pumps fail. But Peoples says the town should look at having a few generators on standby rather than relying on every resident to have one.

Peoples adds that the town may also have to look at putting incentives or possibly other compensation in place for other expenses. Residents may have to fill in some septic systems and run 4-inch lines from their houses to the sewer line.

The mayor says getting residents off of septic tanks and on to the public sewer system is another benefit of the proposed annexation. State and local officials say it&squo;s preferable to have residents on public systems, particularly in denser, more urbanized areas where septic systems can contaminate water supplies.

&dquo;Can I tell you 100 percent there won&squo;t be any more costs? No, I can&squo;t, nor can anyone else,&dquo; says Peoples. &dquo;But we&squo;re also going to be closing septic tanks so we can stop putting waste out into local soil, and will be able to close the (sewer treatment) package plant at Harmon Field. Those are all positives.&dquo;