Discriminating between waterlines on “public” and “private” roads

Published 9:12 am Wednesday, September 25, 2013

To the editor:

I don’t understand why some of the commissioners are making such a big deal about extending waterlines along “private” roads in Polk County.  The majority suggests it’s somehow wrong for Polk County to join with homeowners along privately maintained roads in financing waterline extensions, as the county does along so-called “public” roads.

Under the former waterline extension policy, all citizens paid 40 percent of the extension costs with the county paying 60 percent.  Now, citizens living along state-maintained roads will still pay only 40 percent, but citizens who live along roads they themselves pay to maintain must pay 100 percent of the extension costs, with no help at all from the county.

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As reported in the Tryon Daily Bulletin, commissioner Pack said he doesn’t want “county money to be used on private roads….”  When he said that, Pack’s voice was filled with contempt. Well, there’s no such thing, really, as “county money.”  It’s all the taxpayers’ money, and taxpayers who live on privately maintained roads pay taxes just like those who live on state maintained roads.

I can’t think of any legitimate reason for making such a distinction.

Polk County does not maintain either public or private roads.  Nor does it hold rights-of-way for either public or private roads.

Pretty much all of the existing subdivisions in Polk County have private roads in them, not state-maintained roads. Limiting shared cost waterlines only to public roads will drastically limit the number of customers available to the Polk County water system.  It rules out what are the most efficient and financially feasible areas for waterlines:  existing subdivisions, in which road frontages are typically less than they are for properties outside of subdivisions.  That is detrimental to the county’s policy of trying to get the 1,000 customers it needs to be able to maintain a water treatment plant.

It’s not like “private roads” in Polk County are all in gated communities. Very few are, and those could be distinguished.   The public freely uses privately maintained roads, as do governmental entities. So that’s not a good distinction.

The only significant difference between public and private roads in Polk County is that the state maintains “public” roads and private citizens maintain “private” roads.

That has nothing to do with waterlines. It does mean, however, that landowners along “private” roads save the taxpayers a great deal of money, by taking on the burden of maintaining the roads themselves. Maybe landowners along private roads should get a discount on waterline costs in return for that, rather than the penalty the majority wants to impose.