Polk commissioners discuss future of water system

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, November 1, 2017

COLUMBUS – With just a little over four years left on its contract with Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD), Polk County Commissioners are beginning to discuss the future of the county’s water system, namely whether it wants to continue to have ICWD operate its system or if the county wants to begin operating its own system in the future.


Polk commissioners met Oct. 19 and heard from commissioner Ray Gasperson about the ICWD maintenance agreement.

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Gasperson said the county has a lot of questions coming up on the studies currently being done on the water regionalization study with Polk, ICWD and Broad River Water Authority. Gasperson also said the county always has questions on Lake Adger’s dam issues as well as the sedimentation of Lake Adger.


“When I look at our current water system, the number one strength we have is no debt,” Gasperson said. “No debt on our system at all.”


He said the second strength is Polk County has 60-something miles of water lines installed, with all having fire hydrants and connections to all schools and fire departments. Gasperson said that has helped with fire ISO ratings, so it has lowered homeowners insurance for residents.


Four years and two months remain in the county’s current maintenance agreement with ICWD. The county does not make any revenue on its water system. Customers in Polk County pay their water bills to ICWD, which maintains the county’s system.


“We have to start researching now,” Gasperson said.


Gasperson said ICWD collects all fees and tap fees which is good now because they have the resources. The number of customers the county has now is relatively low, he said, and the county doesn’t have enough customers now to justify hiring all the personnel needed to maintain the system.


Polk County Manager Marche Pittman said Polk’s water system currently has 180 active meters and 263 total taps, some of which are not active.


Pittman also estimated that there is about $25,000 a year in revenues coming in from Polk’s water bills and tap fees and that doesn’t count personnel and capital expenses.


Gasperson said commissioners have not had a status update in a while and asked several questions, including what is the gross revenue of the county’s system and what is the potential cost to run the system.


“At some point in time, it could be Dec. 21, 2021, we may have to transition,”

Gasperson said. “If we do (run the system), then we need to do it as an enterprise fund. What would it take to make that transition for us to run our own system to run as an enterprise fund? If we’re going to be successful over the long term, there has to be enough monies to support the system and generate enough for a fund balance to run water lines so the county’s general fund isn’t paying for it.”


The county agreed several years ago for BRWA to run a 20-inch water line through Polk County in order to connect with ICWD. The county owns the line and has been able to extend water lines throughout the county. The county has spent over $3 million in the last few years with water line extensions, mostly out of the county’s general fund balance. County customers’ water comes from BRWA and the county has a contract with ICWD to maintain and administer the water to Polk customers.


Gasperson said the county needs to have a visioning process to say where the county is going to be in terms of its water system in 10, 20 and 30 years to run the water system like the county runs its transfer station, as a self-sustaining enterprise fund.


Pittman said he has talked to ICWD General Manager Jeff Walker, who said he’d be glad to come to a commissioners’ meeting with an update on the system.


Commissioner Chair Tommy Melton requested that Walker come for a November meeting.


Commissioner Myron Yoder said his thoughts are the county’s system will be a regional thing with BRWA, ICWD and Polk County. He said the county now has the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) using water.


Commissioner vice chair Jake Johnson said he’d like to have Walker’s update open for public comments.


Melton said the county could invite Walker to the first meeting in November and put him on the regular agenda and citizens could sign up for comments or questions during citizen comments on agenda items.


Commissioner Shane Bradley added that commissioners know how he feels about the water system. Bradley has said several times over the last couple years that he thinks the county should sell Lake Adger and get out of the water business. Bradley said he’d like to look at transitioning out.


Commissioners meet again on Monday, Nov. 6, but it was not known if Walker is scheduled for that meeting as of press time as agendas are not released until the end of this week.