Tryon to consider $4.2M offer for water/sewer systems

Published 11:35 am Thursday, January 19, 2012

Council to meet with Ni America to discuss offer made two years ago

Town of Tryon officials have a major offer to consider.

During Tryon’s Jan. 17 meeting, two representatives from Ni America told council they have been interested in purchasing the town’s water and wastewater systems for a couple of years.

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Ni America President Ed Wallace said two years ago his company offered Tryon $4.2 million for its systems.

Council agreed to set up a meeting with Ni America to discuss the offer further.

Ni America Regional President Stan Jones said they came to Tryon’s Jan. 17 meeting as a re-introduction. Jones, who has a home in Columbus, said having Ni America look at the town’s systems won’t cost Tryon a dime.

Wallace said he wants to buy and own the systems. He said Ni America specializes in small systems like Tryon’s.

“We really specialize in smaller systems that need help,” Wallace said. “We also are in the process of talking to cities in which there are water and wastewater issues with increasing costs. We try to fix the issues less expensively than you can fix it yourself. If you were to call DHEC (Department of Health and Environmental Control) in S.C., our reputation is stellar.”

Councilman George Baker said he is sure Ni America is a wonderful company, but he asked Wallace and Jones how they were going to ensure Tryon’s rates would remain the same or lower if they purchased the water/sewer system.

“We currently have the highest rates in North Carolina for cities our size,” Baker said. “One of my concerns is how are you going to prove to us that if you buy this system the rates are going to be as low or lower than they are now? Are you prepared to put that in a contract?

Wallace responded, “Sure – we have no problem with that.”

He said Ni America’s systems in S.C. are 40 percent lower in rates than their municipal counterparts. Wallace said he doesn’t have to plan 20 years in advance like municipalities do.

Wallace said he would never build a plant that would be five times larger than he thinks the flow is; he instead builds plants with the ability to build on as growth occurs.

Jones said Ni America had a rate increase this year, but it was the first in more than 10 years.

“Our tap fees are the same as they were 20 years ago,” Jones said. “Our counterparts have $4,500 tap fees; ours are $850.”

Jones also said they have a system very similar to Tryon’s that has a lot of problems. He said in four months, Ni America has come in and fixed 28 miles of the lines.

“I believe you have a great record in other places,” Baker said, “I don’t care about that. What I’m questioning is how are we going to make out. I want to see what you are going to do for the people of Tryon.”

Wallace said he is aware of some of Tryon’s wastewater issues with inflow and infiltration and there’s not always going to be a grant to fix the issues.

“There’s a reason your rates are the highest,” Wallace said. “At the end of the day you’d be better off with us.”

“And I believe you believe that,” responded Baker. “Tryon is a little town. We’ve just spent a bunch of money. Nothing would please me more than to give you my $3 million in debt and let you run with it.”