Polk majority does not want joint water authority with towns

Published 10:16 pm Monday, November 30, 2015

When asked about working with its towns on a joint water authority, the majority of Polk County Commissioners said that ship has sailed.

Commissioners met Nov. 16 and discussed a report from McGill & Associates done for Protect Polk County Water, a private group formed during the county’s discussions with Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD) over a water contract. ICWD later pulled out of the contract that included a 75-year term of sharing water resources and ICWD maintaining Polk’s Turner Shoals Dam.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson who was the only commissioner against the proposed contract with ICWD, placed McGill’s recommendations on the county’s last agenda for discussion.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Gasperson said the document from McGill is a result of a lot of citizen input and residents donating money in hopes of the county having a much broader discussion on water. Gasperson said what is most intriguing to him in the report is McGill’s recommendation for Polk County to form a water authority between the county and its towns. Gasperson said he wouldn’t expect a water authority would happen for a while, saying it would take months if not years.

“So my question to the board as a whole,” Gasperson asked, “is there willingness to perhaps start having meetings with the municipalities?”

Commissioner Michael Gage said Columbus is all set.

“They have very little debt except their sewer plant,” Gage said about the Town of Columbus. “They aren’t going to join an authority unless their wells go dry and even then they will probably just buy water from the county.”

Gage said Tryon has a lot of debt. Gage also questioned McGill & Associates, saying he’s not “real comfortable with them.” Columbus had a shaky relationship with McGill, according to Gage, and he mentioned the Polk County Recreation field, which the county had issues with McGill’s design.

Commissioner chair Tom Pack said he was surprised while reading McGill’s report, saying, there was “no new information in this.”

Pack said the county went back and forth with the towns for years concerning water. He said now the county knows it has to move forward with repairs to the dam.

“We had a good deal,” Pack said concerning the proposed contract with ICWD. “We lost it. This (McGill’s report) is not showing anything we didn’t already know that’s going to be good for Polk County.”

Gasperson said he assumed that would be the majority’s decision.

Commissioner vice chair Keith Holbert asked Gasperson what his plan is going forward concerning water. Holbert said the county started out with spending $1.6 million on the purchase of Lake Adger and is now looking at another $2-$3 million in repairs to the dam. He asked Gasperson what kind of plan he has to pay for repairs out of Polk County taxpayer pockets.

Gasperson said first the county needs to make sure the dam is safe and stable and said Holbert brings up a good question on how the taxpayers will be impacted.

Concerning paying for repairs to the dam, Gasperson said, “Frankly, we should have a moratorium on water line extensions. We need to focus on our dam repairs.”

Holbert said right now the county is getting something out of its water lines.

“Right now the lake is a money pit,” said Holbert.

Pack said if the county had moved forward with Inman Campobello they would have paid for dam repairs and water lines in the county, but now that will come from taxpayers.