Tryon council commits to $1,000 a month rent for Whitmire

Published 8:13 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Town to pay moving costs, clean furniture

Tryon council members voted Monday, July 29 to approve paying $1,000 a month in rent to move resident Eunice Whitmire from her home on East Howard, where wastewater has run into her yard and into her bathtub multiple times over the past 14 years.

“We’re just taking one step at a time,” Whitmire said following the special called meeting on Monday. She said she did not wish to comment further and referred the Bulletin to her attorney Gene Johnson. Johnson did not return phone calls as of press time.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Council approved the month-to-month rental agreement during the special called meeting, which was held to discuss options for Whitmire and a new tax rate for the town (See Thursday’s paper for tax story).

In late May, the council first instructed town attorney Bailey Nager to look into what steps the town could legally take to move Whitmire into a safer environment.

A month later, soil samples taken by John Salmon of Air and Moisture LLC and tested by a laboratory in New Jersey, confirmed Whitmire’s yard contained human bacteroides or cells of human specific fecal bacteria.

Tryon Town Manager Joey Davis said since then both council members and Whitmire have been looking for potential rental properties.

“This was the first one she came to us with and said, ‘I’m willing to take this house if the council is willing to agree to it,’” Davis explained. “This was also an amount from the board’s standpoint that they were comfortable spending.”

Councilman Roy Miller said the solution, though temporary, is a win-win for both sides. He said this prevents Whitmire from having to live in unsanitary conditions and allows the town time to work on a permanent fix.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Miller said. “This should have been approved a long time ago, but it’s a beautiful home, newly remodeled; she deserves that after 14 years.”

Mayor Alan Peoples said the town would pay $1,000 on a month-to-month rental for the Pine Street home. The town will also cover the costs associated with cleaning Whitmire’s furniture prior to the move, which the town will pay a professional company to handle.

Davis said the town also agreed with Whitmire’s attorney to pay the utilities for Whitmire’s current home so the air conditioning or heating could remain on while she lived in the Pine Street home.

Davis said the month-to-month lease agreement was made so that there would be no conflicting time frame on when Whitmire could move back to her home on East Howard.

Before Whitmire moving back to her home can be considered the town has to complete the more than $700,000 sewer trunk line project along East Howard. Officials are hopeful this project will eliminate system backups that have plagued Whitmire by causing excess wastewater to flow onto her property.

Issues with this trunk line are believed to be the cause of backups after recent heavy rains that caused 48,706 gallons of untreated wastewater to reach the surface waters of a tributary to Vaughn Creek Saturday, July 27. On Saturday, July 20, about 13,916 gallons reached the surface of the same tributary, totaling almost 63,000 gallons in just two weeks.

Davis said the engineer working on the project explained that the current 16-inch line is constantly half full, whether it be with water or sedimentation, which means there are only 8 inches available to push wastewater through to the wastewater treatment plant. With this project the line will be upgraded to a 24-inch line, hopefully allowing for more water to pass through, especially during heavy episodes of rain.

Davis said the public works department also must continue work such as smoke testing to determine where the influx and infiltration of the town’s sewer lines is occurring and fix those issues to prevent additional water and sediment from overburdening the lines.

“We won’t know [if this is a long term solution] until the trunk line goes in and we can do testing to see if the problem is eliminated at that point,” Davis said. “Then we’ll have to deal with what the next steps might be to move Whitmire back in the house.”

Davis said those steps would include additional air monitoring and soil testing once the East Howard sewer line project was completed.

“We want to only move her back if it is a safe and healthy environment,” Davis said.

The east Howard sewer project is currently in the initial phase involving surveying work. The next big hurdle, Davis said, is how long the state takes to turn project permits back around.

“This is really one of those shovel ready projects,” he said. “We know what we need to do and are ready to move on it.”

Davis said the town is hopeful the project would follow a 90-day construction time but added the completion date depends on the permit process and weather conditions. Davis said the last time frame discussed would be for the project to be completed in December or January.

Davis said while the town has not set a fixed ceiling on how much they would spend to cover rental costs for the Pine Street home, he said based on the sewer project timeline the town is expecting to spend about $10,000 total to rent the property, clean Whitmire’s furniture, move her and pay utility fees for her East Howard home.

He added that because this is a sewer issue, funds to cover these costs would come from the water and sewer budget contingency funds and not the general fund.

Davis said about $40,000 is available in contingency funds from the water and sewer budget to cover any unforeseen costs so long as all the water and sewer revenues come in as projected for this budget year, which started July 1.