Polk to reimburse churches that paid water participation fees

Published 11:11 pm Thursday, March 19, 2015


By Leah Justice


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The Polk County Board of Commissioners decided by a 4-1 vote this week to reimburse at least one church, possibly two, for a participation fee they paid to extend a county water line.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday, March 16 and discussed and approved the reimbursement.

The reimbursement stemmed from a recent water line extension to the Green River Baptist Church, which the county decided to pay up to $150,000 for and did not require the church to pay a participation fee.  The county’s water line extension policy states that for water line extension requests, the county will pay 60 percent of the costs and whoever asked for the extension will pay 40 percent, not including a tap fee.

Commissioner Chair Tom Pack placed the item on the agenda and said he’s had several phone calls and commissioners have heard citizen comments asking why the county did not charge a participation fee to Green River Baptist Church.

Pack reviewed the county’s 20/20 Vision Plan, which addresses water line extensions in the county. The vision plan was adopted in March 2010.

The 20/20 Vision Plan says the future county water system is designed to serve critical facilities and higher density planned developments within the county, which are not currently served by a public water distribution system.

“It is anticipated that the system will develop slowly,” states the 20/20 Vision Plan. “Extending the county’s distribution to critical facilities such as schools, fire departments, churches, health care and commercial facilities will ensure a reliable, high quality water source for these facilities and will eliminate the burden of maintaining individual public community well systems for each of the facilities.”

The policy goes on to say, “Generally it is not feasible to extend water distribution facilities to low density areas due to economic (insufficient number of users to support cost) and water quality considerations.”

Pack said over the years it looks as if only two churches or places of assembly have paid a participation fee for water lines, naming Melvin Hill Church and Door of Hope Ministry.

“I think to be in line with the 20/20 Vision Plan and to set a standard within the county, I’d like to refund Melvin Hill,” Pack said. Pack also said he wants county manager Marche Pittman to see if Door of Hope is a place of assembly and if so, to refund its participation fee.

According to Pittman, Melvin Hill paid a $6,168 participation fee for the extension of the water line.

Door of Hope paid a $1,500 participation fee, according to Jeff Walker, Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD) General Manager. Upon request by the county, Walker sent the county an email listing all places of assembly that have received a county water line extension and what each place paid.

Commissioner Michael Gage asked commissioner Ray Gasperson if he remembered why the previous board charged the churches a participation fee. Gasperson answered because charging a participation fee was part of the county’s water line extension policy.

Gasperson then asked Pittman if there has been a formal request for a refund from either establishment. Pittman said he has had a citizen come in and speak to him about it but he has not received anything in writing.

Gasperson then asked Pittman if the county’s water policy addresses the county giving such a refund. Pittman answered no.

Gasperson voted against giving the refunds and said the county’s attorney was not at Monday’s meeting and he feels commissioners need her opinion.

Gasperson then said Melvin Hill willingly paid the participation fee and it was part of the county’s water policy. He also said he’d done some research and Walker noted in his email that Tugaloo Pipeline was paid for that water line to Melvin Hill even though ICWD did the work.

Pack asked Gasperson what that had to do with the church participation fee.

Gasperson said ICWD did not have a utility contractor’s license in North Carolina, which was the reason former county manager Ryan Whitson had Tugaloo oversee the water line extension, because they did have a utility contractor’s license.

Pack cut Gasperon off and called for a vote on the reimbursement. Pack said after the meeting he cut Gasperson off because he was not speaking on the agenda item. Pack said Gasperson could have easily added his issue to the agenda but it was not on topic of the reimbursements to churches.

Gasperson argued it was on topic because Walker’s email specifically states Tugaloo Pipeline was paid for the extension to Melvin Hill.

“When the Melvin Hill Road line was installed, ICWD installed the line at a cost of $19,046, which included a 10 percent markup to Tugaloo Pipeline,” Walker said in his email to the county. “Ryan Whitson wanted us to go through a contractor for some reason that I’m still not sure of.”

The majority of commissioners went on to approve a budget amendment to pay the reimbursements to come out of the county’s fund balance. Gasperson said he was opposed to the budget amendment as well, stating he thinks the finance officer should be present for a budget amendment, which she was not Monday night.