Polk to join towns in water authority study

Published 7:30 pm Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Polk County Board of Commissioners decided last week to join an effort by its three towns to hire a consultant to conduct a water authority study.

Commissioners met Oct. 7 and unanimously approved the decision to help pay for a consultant.

The county was asked to join the effort following an Oct. 1 joint meeting with the towns of Columbus and Tryon and City of Saluda. The towns met jointly to discuss sharing resources and the discussion quickly turned to creating a water authority to share water resources in the future.

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The towns directed its managers to get proposals from consultants who could do a study on a water authority including the potential costs to form one. Polk County was not a part of the joint meeting but county commissioner Ted Owens attended and the town councils asked Owens to bring it before the county board.

During the Oct. 7 meeting, Owens told the board in December 2004 the county established a public works committee with one commissioner, the county manager and one representative from the all the town councils to meet and see what could be shared.

The group ended up talking more about a water authority at the time, but unfortunately for several reasons, the committee did not succeed in achieving its goals, Owens said.

Owens suggested since the towns have asked the county to join the new effort that the board direct its county manager to contact the towns to say the county is interested in seeking a consultant and work together on sharing resources.

Citizen comments during the meeting came from Renée McDermott, who cautioned the county to be careful in the joint venture, particularly because the county has a water system with no debt and the towns all have debt.

“It probably makes sense to talk about it, but the county has to be so careful with the very different situation it is in right now having a system that has no debt,” McDermott said.

She said Tryon has a great deal of debt and their system is very old and in need of significant repairs. She also said Columbus relies heavily on its water system and pays for parts of its employee salaries with water revenues.

She cautioned the county that joining could result in Polk County residents seeing an increase in their taxes and water bills.

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden said the towns didn’t plan the joint meeting to talk about water but it became an important topic.

“If we started today we probably would not have a county water system in 10 years,” said Baisden. “The whole point was to start talking and have a consultant look at what a county water authority would look like.”

Baisden said Polk County has 19,000 people and the entire county is the size of some small towns and they have to figure out how to join water sources. He said they could go into a cooperative instead of an authority so that no one entity takes on the debt of other cities or parties involved.

“We’re going to have to address water,” Baisden told commissioners. “Maybe not in our lifetime but in someone’s lifetime.”

The next joint meeting will be held in January.