Columbus Town Council holds budget planning retreat

Published 8:32 pm Friday, March 13, 2015

Public works, water/sewer infrastructure top list of Columbus’ priorities

 By Claire Sachse

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At the Town of Columbus’ annual budget retreat, held Feb. 28 at town hall, council members Josh Denton, Richard Hall, Schott Hamby and Margaret Metcalf, and Mayor Eric McIntyre, heard reports from the town clerk, department heads and the town manager about budgetary needs for the 2015-2016 fiscal year beginning July 1.


The items on the Public Works Department’s priority list were selected by council members as being the most important items the town needed to address in the upcoming budget cycle.


Ranked in order of importance, items on the Public Works’ list included rerouting a segment of 8-inch water supply line that currently runs through an inaccessible and heavily wooded area; purchasing a new dump truck; rerouting another segment of water line, or clearing old growth woods from above that water line; rerouting a sewer line that runs underneath several Columbus businesses; addressing the need for fire hydrants in the Beechwood subdivision; and looking at replacing the two sewer pumps at the BP lift station.


Council members unanimously agreed that addressing the 8-inch water line leading into Columbus from the storage tank at the end of Overlook Drive was a top priority. Currently the water line follows the contour of Overlook Dr. for a short distance before it veers into an inaccessible wooded area for approximately one-third mile, travels under US Hwy. 74, and then connects to a line under Hampton St. The fear is that if anything were to happen to the line in that inaccessible area, Columbus would be without water.


“It would cripple the town if the water line went down,” said Denton.


Town Manager Tim Barth suggested that the water line be rerouted so that it continues the entire length of Overlook Dr. to an existing line under Houston Rd.


Another top priority chosen by council was the purchase of a new dump truck that town employees can use in addition to the town’s current 18-year-old work truck. Barth said that having a second truck would enable Public Works employees to multitask, and will relieve some wear and tear from the older truck, preserving its life a little longer. The town will be looking to finance $42,000 for a diesel or $36,000 for a gas-powered truck.


The second water line project identified by Public Works is the water line that runs from Thorne to Mills St. underneath old growth woods. Public Works has suggested either clearing the woods above the water line or rerouting the water line. The water line runs under what was once mapped as a street, but Councilwoman Metcalf said that the street was closed long ago. Barth agreed that the town would need to check what the easement would allow the town to do with the property above the water line.


The sewer line identified as being of concern runs underneath Columbus Laundrette, Second Chance Thrift Store and Bank of America with a manhole located inside the Second Chance Thrift Store. In a memo to council, Ricky McGuinn described the line as “aging,” and that he “strongly urge[s] the town to have this sewer rerouted to avoid a catastrophe.”


In another memo to council, McGuinn expressed concerns over the two sewer pumps located at the BP lift station, both of which are more than 10 years old. The pumps handle waste from west of I-26, Tryon Estates, Holly Hills, W. Mills St. and Houston Rd. He urged the council to replace the pumps at a cost of $10,000 each, rather than rebuild. He writes, “I encourage the town to take a look at doing this in the next year or two before the pumps are completely worn out.”


Barth brought up another water project that he felt was of critical importance to the town and that he had mentioned in prior council meetings, that of adding additional water storage capacity. The town currently has one storage tank that is 40 years old, he said.


“We don’t know when it’s going to fail and we can’t see inside,” said Barth.


Barth suggested adding an additional storage tank, for redundancy purposes, and also so that the existing tank could be drained and inspected. The cost of a second tank, according to Barth, would be $500,000 plus unspecified costs for engineering and fees.


“We have the redundancy with the sewer treatment plant and we’re as prepared as we can be,” said Barth. “I want our water system to be the same way, and I think the board understands that. We need to be serious about making sure the water system is where it needs to be.”


In discussing placing water lines at the top of the priority list, McIntyre said, “We’d be in a lot more trouble if we failed to act and something went wrong.”


The cost for all the water and sewer projects on the list would total “about $1 million,” according to Barth. In order to finance the projects, he said that he is investigating obtaining grant funding, at least for a partial amount. USDA is one entity that he has had discussions with about applying for their rural community grants.

Barth said that he would also approach commercial lenders, but regardless of the route taken for financing, a preliminary engineering report will need to be drafted, at a cost of $25,000. Barth said that he would bring the request for that expenditure to council at their March meeting, to be paid for in this current budget year.


Although they didn’t top the list of priorities, council members indicated that two requests by Police Chief Chris Beddingfield were important. The first was to change the administrative assistant position at the police department from part time to full time to ensure better coverage, and the second was the addition of an officer to the department due to anticipated need once the Tryon International Equestrian Center becomes fully operational. Beddingfield also reported to council that he and Barth are investigating obtaining grant funding that will enable the department to expand the police department’s building on Walker St.

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