Commissioners debate water line to CooperRiis

Published 5:26 pm Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Polk County commissioners are currently undecided about who should pay for a water line to CooperRiis Healing Community.
Specifically, commissioners debated whether the county should pay to get the water line just to the property or to take it an extra 1,000 feet to the middle of the property. CooperRiis requested the line be brought into the property in order for the nonprofit organization to save on insurance.
Commissioners on Monday, June 18 tabled the decision on whether to approve a change order to add the extension to the county’s current water line construction. The county is in the process of constructing water lines between the Polk County Middle School and Polk County High School to connect to the Town of Columbus’ water system.
The total cost of the water line to the middle of the CooperRiis property is $111,543, with $27,000 of that cost being the line from the edge of the property past Healing Farm Lane.
Commissioners questioned where nonprofits fall into the county’s policy regarding water line extensions. Businesses and subdivisions have received water lines from the county and have paid a percentage of the cost or the entire cost, depending on the situation. Homeowners have also paid for requested extensions by paying 40 percent of the costs if the homes were not located on a trunk line.
Commissioners said Monday that the policy doesn’t address nonprofits. They said the county has set a precedent by paying for extensions to the Mill Spring Agricultural and Development Center and to the Green Creek Community Center, both of which are nonprofit organizations.
Other debates occurred on whether the line to CooperRiis is considered a trunk line for economic development and whether the county should pay for the extra 1,000 feet CooperRiis requested.
The Polk County Tourism and Economic Development (ETDC) Commission gave its support for the CooperRiis water line.
County manager Ryan Whitson said he doesn’t know whether CooperRiis falls under the county’s water extension policy, and if it’s for economic development it’s up to commissioners to decide who pays. He also said he considers the water line along Hwy. 108 to be a trunk line.
Commissioner Tom Pack said the equestrian center along Hwy. 9 was required to pay for its water line, but commissioner chair Ray Gasperson said they weren’t required to pay – they offered to pay.
“I just want to make sure we’re treating everybody the same,” Pack said.
Commissioner vice-chair Renée McDermott said the county’s water line extension policy does specifically address subdivisions, and the county has paid for trunk lines. She said Hwy. 9 and Hwy. 108 are considered trunk lines, and the county has paid for those water lines through its fund balance.
Whitson said the extra 1,000 feet CooperRiis is requesting would allow the nonprofit to get lower insurance rates because the buildings would be closer to a fire hydrant. He also said the extra line would prepare for future growth.
“If we’re taking it out of the general fund should we spend taxpayer money on further out to save them money?” Pack asked. “Should we just look at getting to their property and they take care of the rest?”
Gasperson argued that since it was a trunk line the county should pay for it.
“Why would we require them to pay something when it’s a trunk line?” Gasperson asked.
Commissioner Cindy Walker said she felt uncomfortable about the proposal. She said when the county agreed to purchase a house for mental health services, Family Preservation paid to remodel the house.
“They spent a portion of their money to help with that deal,” Walker said.
CooperRiis Executive Director and President Virgil Stucker said the healing farm is grateful for the county considering running the line. He said about 600 people have come through the facility and CooperRiis is growing, with another facility in Asheville. CooperRiis had 21 employees in 2003 and now has more than 140 full-time employees and more than 30 part-time employees, Stucker said.
CooperRiis plans to build eight additional homes, with the first phase being the construction of three homes, Stucker said.
Stucker said CooperRiis is a nonprofit and has to raise money to cover costs and that about half of the participants are on scholarships. Stucker also said converting to county water from the current well system will cost CooperRiis $37,000, and hooking up to the new system will cost another $70,000.
“I’d think we’ll be the big customer on the end so (the county) won’t have to flush (the line),” Stucker said. “My understanding is we will pay for years to come for nice, fresh water coming from Polk County.”
Commissioners decided to look into some numbers regarding the connection, including how much an estimated 140,000 gallons a month will cost CooperRiis. Stucker said the amount purchased will increase as CooperRiis expands.
Commissioners also said they want a contract to be drawn up regarding CooperRiis shutting down its well system once it is connected to the county.
The water line is proposed to be a 12-inch line that will extend 2,560 feet, with two fire hydrants, from the county’s current line at the intersection of Hwy. 108 and Hwy. 9 in Mill Spring. The water would come from the county’s well system located at the middle school campus.

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