Polk hopes to reserve $100k for county water line extensions next fiscal year

Published 10:00 pm Monday, March 27, 2017

COLUMBUS – Polk residents who want to connect to the county’s water system may want to petition the county next fiscal year as commissioners are attempting to reserve $100,000 in the budget to extend water lines.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met March 20 and discussed the county’s current water line extension policy with county engineer Dave Odom. In the discussion, commissioners came to a consensus for county manager Marche Pittman to reserve $100,000 in next year’s budget in case anyone wants to extend a water line.

The county’s water line extension policy allows for a 60/40 split, with the county paying 60 percent of the water line extension and the customer, residential or business, paying 40 percent of the costs of the extension.

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Odom reviewed the policy for new commissioners, saying it was originally adopted in 2009 and was modified in 2012 and again in 2013.

Odom said there are three circumstances in the policy, including when a new residential subdivision wants public water. In that case, any water line extensions to the subdivision are 100 percent the responsibility of the developer to pay for.

“There is no county participation in any way, shape or form,” Odom said. “It is strictly something done by the developer.”

Another circumstance is when a new commercial or industrial expansion is requested, Odom said, and those requests are handled on an individual basis. Odom said sometimes a business may be creating a lot of jobs and state grant money is involved.

The third case is for existing property owners, both business and residential, Odom said, who are on an existing public road and desire to come together and petition the county to have water extended to their properties.

“In that case, the county will consider the petition and if the funds are available in your budget and everything else meets the requirements of the policy, then the county will participate 60 percent and the homeowners have to pay 40 percent of the cost of the project,” Odom said.

Odom added that includes all costs, including any design, permitting and rights of way if needed.

The county currently contracts with Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD) to administer its water system. Polk County accepted a main line that ran through Green Creek several years ago connecting the Broad River Water Authority to ICWD and Polk is able to extend water lines from that main line. Polk County owns all the water lines that are located within the county and has made several extensions off that main line over the last several years through its extension policy.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he’d like for Odom to clarify about the water line going to Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC), saying that the county was fully reimbursed by TIEC on the costs of water service to that facility.

“The county has no money at all in that,” Gasperson said. “The county now owns all of that (water lines).”

Odom said that is correct and the extension to TIEC was paid for by two methods. TIEC received a grant for the water line extension because of job creation through the N.C. Department of Commerce and the required match TIEC paid for themselves. Odom also said TIEC has done other extensions themselves and have paid for 100 percent of the costs.

County manager Marche Pittman said one of the reasons he placed the water line extension policy on the agenda was to get guidance from commissioners as to what, if any, funding they want to put in next year’s budget for extensions.

“Last year we didn’t fund the lines,” Pittman said. “So if somebody called and said they wanted a water line extension, we didn’t have funds available.”

Commissioner Myron Yoder said it definitely wouldn’t be bad to set some money aside for water line extensions.

When asked by commissioner chair Tommy Melton how much, Yoder said he’d be happy with $100,000.

Commissioner Shane Bradley said he’d be happy if the county had never spent a dime on a water line in this county.

“It’s kind of like the dam (Turner Shoals Dam),” Bradley said. “If you haven’t ever bought it, we wouldn’t have to spend $3 million of taxpayer money on it while we’ve got citizens up here complaining about losing their property.” Bradley was referencing county residents who spoke at commissioner meetings about the possibility of losing their property due to their tax revaluations.

But Bradley also said now that the county owns the dam, the county has to maintain it or get rid of it. Just like the water system already being in place, Bradley said the only way for the water system to work is to get paying customers in place.

“I’d be happy with $50,000 (in next year’s budget),” Bradley said.

Commissioner vice chair Jake Johnson said if the county were to set aside $100,000 next year, that doesn’t mean the county has to spend it all.

“I agree with Shane,” Johnson said. “It’s already there, we might as well make it where people can get on it if they want to.”

Johnson said he’s comfortable reserving $100,000 for water line extensions in next year’s budget, saying the county doesn’t have to spend all of what is reserved.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he was fine with putting in the backbone of a water system and getting public water to schools and fire departments but he has voted against some extensions. He said with any water system you have to be thinking decades ahead.

Gasperson said he hopes Polk could move towards setting up a water authority, like Broad River Water Authority and ICWD.

“I think we need to be moving in that direction. We need to set the foundation of how can we move forward in the future here in Polk of making these decisions and I think we need to be moving this decision-making process on water lines off the board of commissioners directly,” Gasperson said.

Gasperson said the board of commissioners in the end will still have to vote for funding, but as far as decisions on which water lines go where, that decision should ultimately be up to a water authority to decide.

Gasperson also said he thinks the county should be getting a good number on participation fees and asked how much money the county has from participation fees.

Pittman said he is not positive on how much the county has in participation fees but said it’s not much.

Gasperson said he is not comfortable giving a number on how much the county should reserve for water line extensions until he sees the budget but it would be good if the county could reserve $50,000 and great if it could set aside $100,000.

Pittman said it is going to be budget driven, and at the end the county may or may not have the money, but he is looking for guidance from commissioners.

Melton directed Pittman to work with $100,000 for water line extensions if he can fit it in the budget.

Polk will soon begin working on next fiscal year’s budget. The new budget year begins July 1.