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Town council OK water rate hikes

Increase to help pay off plant upgrades

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BY MILES LAYTON
Staff writer

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

When a famous adventuring steer named Finn visited Edenton recently, he should have stuck around a bit longer to attend Monday’s special meeting of Town Council so as to learn more about a water rate increase, the pending sale of the Conger Building, the adoption of the annual budget and much more.

Of course space is tight within today’s Chowan Herald, so the print version of the story has no room to chew the cud. Thus readers are advised to visit the newspaper’s Facebook page, which will direct them to the web link needed to find the full story online at the Daily Advance.

First up, council approved a $1.35 water rate increase that will take effect in the near future. The rate hike is the first of what will be two rate increases — $1.35 and later, $1.40 — that will total $2.75 within the next year or so. In 2020, council is poised to approve the $1.40 rate increase. The total rate increase is needed to pay back $2.64 million in bonds to renovate and upgrade the town’s Beaver Hill and Freemason water treatment plants.

Council was split 3-2 as to whether to approve splitting up the total rate increase or approving an all-at-once rate increase next year after the renovations are completed and bond payments commence. Councilors Craig Miller, Jimmy Stallings and Roscoe Poole voted for the rate increase while Elton Bond and Steve Biggs opposed the measure. Sam Dixon did not attend

Miller advocated for “softening” the rate increase by spreading it out. Mayor Roland Vaughan preferred to have the total rate increase approved next year because he said citizens shouldn’t be paying more for “old water” until the water treatment plant work is complete. He based his opinion on a healthy skepticism of governmental affairs most recently after Outer Banks residents were made to pay for a beach nourishment project that was promised sooner rather than later, but did not start until later.

Water infrastructure improvements are needed because the town’s water system remains in violation of state law because the water contains elevated levels of tri-halomethanes, a byproduct of the chemical process to disinfect drinking water. Tri-halomethanes, or THMS, are considered carcinogenic. That said, don’t be alarmed because high THM levels in the town’s water don’t pose an emergency, but customers — particularly those with specific health concerns — need to know about them.

Speaking of water treatment plants, Town’s Public Works Director Corey Gooden gave a presentation as to the ongoing progress at Beaver Hill and Freemason water treatment plants. Beaver Hill will be online in early October with Freemason early next year. Both plants will be compliance with state Department of Environmental Quality standards. Though water quality will improve, the town’s 2,107 water customers will continue to get mailers in their utility bills that say tri-halomethanes are present in the water supply – until the plants are online for a year.

In related financial news, council approved a $20.5 million budget for Fiscal Year 2019-20. There will be no increase in the Town’s property tax rate, which stands at 40 cents. The budget includes $1.50 increase in fees to pay infrastructure needs, as well as a 1.5 percent electric rate increase.

Brew pub 

In other matters, say goodbye to the Conger Building and hello to a proposed brew pub.

According to council documents, Raleigh businessman John Glover decided to waive condition to secure necessary permits and will proceed with purchasing the property on June 28, prior to the June 30 deadline set by Town Council. Town Attorney Hood Ellis said covenants limit use of the property to a brewery and brew pub, so Town is protected in its intent. There are a few minor repairs to make to the building – three or four window panes were damaged recently by pellet gun bandit and a footing on the east side of the building needs repair.

In March 2018, council voted 4-1 to adopt a resolution supporting the town’s sale of the building, also known as the former Northeast Commission Building, to Glover for $309,000.

Town Manager Anne Marie Knighton is working with Glover on a short-term solution for the Town to use the land where the Edenton-Chowan Recreation Department’s sunfish sailboats and Town of Edenton stand-up paddle boards are stored, as well as temporary use of the Sail Loft building where county and town equipment is stored.

The Edenton Yacht Club owns some supplies stored in the sail loft. The town will work to include in the temporary arrangement. Edenton has a long-term plan to construct building for storage and classroom space for teaching sailing and water-related sports.

Ferry and fire safety

Maybe it’s time to take a road trip to check out the new passenger ferry!

Knighton, along with Tourism Development Director Nancy Nicholls, recently toured the new passenger ferry system that links Hatteras and Ocrocoke. They gave the ferry rave reviews and spoke highly of NC Representative Ed Goodwin’s efforts to create a passenger ferry system that connects various venues with the Albemarle Sound and the Outer Banks -— Harbor Towns Ferry Project.  

Based on Knighton’s description, maybe make a note to ride the new ferry – a trip that takes about an hour and lands folks in the heart of Ocracoke. Bikes are allowed. Refreshments are available.  

Knighton said the ferry’s windows go from ceiling to floor and offer a great view. Also, there is a big screen television that will soon play tourism videos, so tourists will see a video clip featuring Edenton in the near future. Imagine being able to watch ACC basketball during the conference tournament.

When Knighton and Nicholls returned to Hatteras, they took the regular ferry that transports cars — the ones we’ve all taken from time to time. Knighton said because of that trip, they were better able to compare between the passenger ferry and the regular one. While not taking away from the regular ferry, the new ferry is much better, she said.

In other news, Fire Chief Billy Bass gave a presentation about how important it is to keep doors closed within homes so as to better protect folks and delay the spread of fire. Also, make sure smoke detectors are working — change the batteries. In 2018, there were 135 people who lost their lives to fire. In 2019, there have been 57 fire deaths in North Carolina.

Other remnants from the meeting

During the committee meeting portion of the meeting, council’s administrative committee gave its blessing for the full council to consider amending the personnel policy so as to create a definition for a temporary position since the Town Hall is participating in the UNC NC Lead Fellowship Program. The position will be a fixed-term, full-time, hourly, non-exempt employee of the Town. Employment term of the temporary fellow shall be for no more than 12 consecutive months. A temporary fellow is entitled to no other benefits offered by the Town, except as delineated in a written employment contract.

Also, the Albemarle Resource Conservation and Development Council adopted a resolution and requests local governments consider adoption too. The resolution seeks to bring attention to regional drainage and water quality issues. Given the recent algae blooms, the resolution is timely given the recent report from Chowan Edenton Environmental Group, so discussion of that resolution will be on council’s plate in the near future.

And, earlier this spring, council approved submittal of an application for funding from NC DEQ to install underground drainage improvements on the Town’s property on East Eden Street. This project will help improve water quality by filtering out nutrients in the storm water as well as providing additional storage capacity for storm water during heavy rain events thereby reducing “back up” at the storm water pump station. The grant will provide $95,000 and the Town will match that amount.

Speaking of grants, Town Hall also applied for a $25,000 grant, which it committed to matching with $25,000 for a Stormwater Feasibility Study. This study will focus on the east side of town and will identify possible improvements to help improve drainage and reduce flooding.

Also, Town Hall filed a grant from the NCDEQ to fund a comprehensive assessment of the water system. The grant requires the town to pay a 5% match ($7,500) and a grant fee of $2,250. This asset inventory and assessment will produce recommendations for replacement and improvements to the water system and will be a great financial and capital improvements planning tool for the Town, Knighton said.

In other matters, council amended the Electric Fund Budget to account for contribution of funds from the Solar Farm Developer (O2 EMC) to pay for the upgrades needed on the town’s electric distribution system. The upgrades have been completed, and per the agreement with O2 EMC, the town needs to refund funds not expended to the developer ($64,442.03).

Staff writer Miles Layton can be reached at mlayton@ncweeklies.com

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