Officials eye joint water authority again

Published 3:50 pm Thursday, June 10, 2010

Area Polk and town officials may have experienced dja-vu Tuesday night when a joint meeting turned to talk of creating a county water authority.

Just a few years ago, the county and towns held meetings intended to create a joint water authority, but the group could not reach consensus. The towns and county decided then to continue developing separate water systems.

Now attitudes seem to have changed, partly because budget cuts and reduced water usage are making it difficult for the towns to maintain their systems without raising rates.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I bang my head on the table all the time trying to figure out water and sewer rates and how we are going to maintain these systems, said Tryon Town Manager Justin Hembree. None of us are the big bad wolf trying to take something from anybody.

Polk County also has much more to bring to the table this round, including its purchase of Lake Adger for a future water source. The county also has about 15 miles of water lines, with plans for expansion.

The group agreed Tuesday to seek advice from Jackson Countys Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority, which has successfully managed a similar situation.

The Tuckaseigee authority was created in 1992 when the county of Jackson and the towns of Dillsboro, Sylva and Webster consolidated their water and wastewater utilities. Polk officials said that the Jackson County authority has faced one of Polk’s challenges: two of Jackson County’s towns are close together but with a significant elevation difference, like Saluda compared to Tryon and Columbus.

Columbus sparked the idea of holding joint meetings a few months ago, saying the towns could share resources to help lower costs.

After some discussion about the towns’ individual concerns about water, including Columbus’ concern that it might lose major customer Tryon Estates to the county if the county runs water lines down Peniel Road, all the towns agreed to look into forming a water authority.

Many officials mentioned the difference in economic times between now and several years ago when development and the economy was booming.

We had a good economy where we all thought we could do everything ourselves, said Polk County Commissioner Vice-Chair Ray Gasperson. The reality is we may not see that again and we have to work together.

Hembree said when times are good its easy not to cooperate.

Were in a time now of being forced to cooperate whether we want to or not, said Hembree.

Whitson said this time, not all the towns would have to join the countys system if they werent interested. He said the countys system was designed that way, where one, two or all three could join or none at all.

Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples said Tryons issue with the idea of a joint system when it was last discussed was that the draft authority agreement required that Tryon purchase about $200,000 of water per year from the joint system.

Let me tell you what the killer was for us, said Peoples. Whether we used a drop of water or not we were going to have to pay $200,000 per year.

The next joint meeting will also be held at Columbus Town Hall and is scheduled for Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre volunteered to contact Tuckaseigee officials to gather information and see it they would be interested in coming to talk with the joint group.

Look for more coverage of the joint meeting in the Bulletin soon.