Tryon to form committee to help decide whether to sell its water, sewer systems

Published 4:08 pm Friday, February 24, 2012

Tryon is looking to the community to help the town decide whether to sell its water and wastewater systems.
Council met Tuesday, Feb. 21 and discussed an offer from Ni America, a private company, to purchase the town’s water and sewer systems. Council agreed to ask interim manager Joey Davis to advertise for a committee.
Council members still seem torn on whether to sell the systems to Ni America.
“As I said at the Ni America meeting, the big elephant is joining with the towns and county,” said councilman George Baker. “I don’t know where we go. I’m more interested in getting the towns and county together than selling to Ni America, but I don’t know.”
Most council members seemed to be more interested in combining water systems with the Polk County and the Towns of Columbus and Saluda, but that option could still be years away.
Councilman Roy Miller said he concurs with Baker, and he thinks Tryon should keep communications open with the towns and the county.
Baker, who suggested creating the committee, also said he would like to continue to investigate the option of selling to Ni America and said he wonders if the water and sewer systems are severable.
Baker said it seems to him that Ni America, if he reads between the lines, is more interested in sewer than water.
Mayor Alan Peoples said he doesn’t want to lose the town’s water or sewer systems. He said if the town keeps the systems at least they would be controlled by people who sleep in this county.
Miller said Tryon has several options and he wouldn’t want to lose the town’s water system.
“We currently have one of the highest [water] rates in North Carolina for towns our size,” Miller said. “I think we need to investigate what we can do. East Howard Street sewer has to be fixed because DENR (N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has told us it needs to be fixed.”
In relation to possibly selling its systems, council approved and then rescinded a decision to finance approximately $77,000 to purchase a backhoe for the water and sewer department. The town had budgeted this year debt service for a new backhoe, but said last week that it should hold off on the purchase in case the town sells its systems.
For now, the town plans to trade the water/sewer backhoe, which has problems with its hydraulic system, with the street department’s backhoe. Council asked public works director Joel Burrell to try to make the trade work for the meantime and said if a new backhoe is needed council will look into the purchase later.
In 2010, Ni America, which owns systems in South Carolina, Florida and Texas, offered Tryon approximately $4.1 million for its systems. Ni America officials have said in recent meetings that they are back to square one and need to investigate the town’s systems in detail to determine whether they are still interested in purchasing the systems.
Ni America was formed in 2007 to acquire regulated water and wastewater utilities. It is an investor-owned company, with a small percentage of ownership by company management, according to Ni America’s public relations director, Rick Melcher. Ni America currently owns two water systems in Texas, one water and one sewer system in Florida and three sewer systems in South Carolina with approximately 30,000 total customers.
Tryon council members have said they want to know the town’s systems’ needs prior to making a decision. A public works committee will likely be formed during the town’s March meeting, which will research the town’s water and sewer system needs.

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