Private road waterline funding in jeopardy

Published 9:15 pm Thursday, September 12, 2013

by Leah Justice

The majority of the Polk County Board of Commissioners said they want the waterline extension policy to specifically say there will be no county dollars spent to extend waterlines to private roads.

Polk County Commissioners met Sept. 9 and the majority approved directing county attorney Jana Berg and interim county manager Marche Pittman to draft changes to the current waterline extension policy to clarify that the county will not offer a 60/40 funding split to residents on private roads or to private subdivisions. Commissioner Ray Gasperson voted against the direction.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Commissioner Tom Pack said he doesn’t want county money to be used on private roads or private subdivisions, but if those residents want to pay to receive water the county would extend the line.

“We’re not stopping anybody,” said Pack. “What we’re saying is we’re not going to do the 60/40 split on private roads or subdivisions on private roads.”

The county’s current water policy, adopted in 2009, allows the county to extend its waterlines from the Broad River Water Authority’s line that runs through Green Creek to the Inman Campobello Water District (ICWD). The water policy currently says if funding is available, and the extension is feasible to the county, Polk County will pay for 60 percent of the costs of the extension and homeowners or the subdivision will pay the remaining 40 percent, plus tap fees.

In August, commissioners directed Berg to draft changes to the water policy. Berg presented ideas to the board Sept. 9 but recommended the county form a committee consisting of herself, county engineer Dave Odom, interim manager Pittman and county finance director Sandra Hughes to work on changes to the policy. Berg also reviewed other water providers’ policies for extending waterlines and suggested Polk take requests for waterline extensions and rate them on a point system to determine which ones to do on what timeline.

Pack said he appreciates Berg’s work but what she presented was not what he expected. Commissioner Ted Owens agreed the plans she returned with didn’t accomplish the commissioner’s goals.

“A water authority is what (Berg is) talking about,” said Owens. “The idea was to take the policy now and be sure we don’t (pay to) run lines into private roads and into private developments.”

Owens said he keeps using the Red Fox development as an example, and said it would cost the county a fortune if that development wanted water service from the county under the current policy.

Berg asked commissioners if, hypothetically, 80 percent of Red Fox said they wanted water and the residents were willing to pay the costs, would the county run the water.

Pack said he doesn’t have a problem with that as long as it doesn’t cost the county any money.

“I don’t mind if it’s on a public road,” Pack said. “We don’t need to be spending county money on private roads and private subdivisions.”

Owens said the policy currently allows the county to pick and choose who gets extensions for free or with a participation fee and that’s not good.

“Pack and I argued a long time with a different board if you’re going to charge one, you’ve got to charge all,” said Owens. “The way you read this policy … it leaves it wide open.”

Resident Renée McDermott said discriminating between homeowners who happen to live along privately-maintained roads as compared to those living along state-maintained roads makes no sense.

“What would be the reason for making any distinction,” McDermott asked. “I can’t think of any. Polk County does not maintain either public or private roads.”

McDermott said people along public and private roads pay the same taxes, and, under the current water policy, pay the same amounts to have waterlines connected.

“If the county were to limit waterlines only to public roads, it would drastically limit the number of customers available to the Polk County water system,” said McDermott. “It would rule out what are most likely the most efficient and financially feasible areas in which to extend waterlines: subdivisions, in which road frontages are typically less than they are for properties outside of subdivisions. That would be detrimental to the county’s policy of trying to get at least 1,000 customers to be able to maintain a water treatment plant.”

Before the vote, Gasperson tried to amend Pack’s motion to direct Pittman and Odom to meet with ICWD on how it deals with the private/public road situation since ICWD maintains Polk’s water system, but Pack did not agree to amend his motion.