Columbus moves forward with $3.6 mil. sewer project, proposes rate hike

Published 4:02 pm Monday, May 24, 2010

The Town of Columbus is officially moving forward with a major upgrade of its waste water treatment plant, an estimated $3.6 million project that could result in higher water and sewer rates for customers.
Town council has not yet discussed its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but town officials said Thrusday that a 20 percent water and sewer rate increase is being recommended by staff.
Columbus Town Council met Thursday with Brian Tripp with W.K. Dickson Engineering. The town approved sending an initial application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be approved for a grant and loan to fund the project.
The town also approved applying for a N.C. Rural Center grant to help fund the engineering costs, estimated at $60,000, which are included in the total.
Tripp reviewed proposals for the increase, which could help pay back the loan portion of the project.
Tripp is proposing the town institute a 5 percent increase for residential customers and a 25 percent increase for commercial customers, with additional increases for heavy water users, or those who use 10,000 gallons or more per month.
The increase would mean $1 to $2 per month for residential customers, depending on inside or outside rates for both water for both water and sewer rates. The increase could mean from $8 to $16 a month on sewer for commercial customers and between $7 and $13 for water. Additional charges are being proposed for water used over 10,000 gallons.
The town is faced with upgrading or replacing its waste water treatment plant that is currently outdated, having been constructed in 1968. The most cost effective solution is to do upgrades as well as upgrading the towns hospital pump station and installing a new potable well. Estimates for the total project are $3,624,900. The timeline for the project is about two years for the project to be complete. The town has already paid W.K. Dickson $10,000 of its estimated $60,000 in engineering costs, which could go as some of the towns match to the N.C. Rural Center grant. Tripp said his office will apply for $30,000 and the town, if approved, would have to contribute another $20,000 as its 50/50 match. The initial application to the USDA will give the town an indication of how much the town will be receiving in grant and how much the town will have to borrow for the total project. The next step for the town is to do an environmental assessment for the project.
The USDA could give up to 45 percent of the funding in a grant with a possible 3.375 percent loan over 40 years.
Town council members posed many questions to Tripp regarding how much the project will cost the town. The engineering costs will be reimbursed by the grant/loan and the USDA could require increased rates in order to pay back the loan.
Council members all agree, though, that the project is needed, due to the age of the wastewater treatment plant.
Councilman Michael Gage mentioned that if rates escalate too high, Tryon Estates could go offline with the town, considering Tryon Estates has mentioned constructing its own wells in the past. Tryon Estates makes up about 1/3 of the towns enterprise fund, Gage said. Town officials said Tryon Estates is currently pays about $30,000 a month for services and Tripp said the increase could mean about a $10,000 per month increase.
“If we go up that much they may drill their own wells,” Gage said.
Gage added Polk County is discussing bringing water service up Peniel Road from its Inman-Campobello Water District source, which could also take Tryon Estates off Columbus water.
The town has budget workshops scheduled to discuss the upcoming budget and proposed rate increases on June 2 and June 9, both beginning at 6 p.m. at town hall.

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