The cost of public works

Published 8:36am Thursday, September 19, 2013

By Caroline Stephenson

Correspondent

WINTON – We understand your plight, but the matter is out of our hands.

That’s the message sent to several dozen residents of the Carver Park neighborhood, located off US 158 Business and adjacent to Riverview Elementary School in Murfreesboro, who attended Monday’s Hertford County Board of Commissioner’s meeting. Those residents were concerned over what they felt to be excessive water and sewer rates charged by the town of Murfreesboro.

Diane Smith, who grew up in that community, served as a spokesperson for the Carver Park residents. She stated that over the past several months they had met numerous times with the Murfreesboro Town Council, the Mayor, the Town Administrator, and Commissioner of Public Works. Smith stated they had been trying to come up with a “workable solution” to lower the water and sewer rates for Carver Park residents, many of whom are elderly and living on fixed incomes.

Carver Park is located in the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) of Murfreesboro. Residents of ETJ areas are not subject to town taxes unless they chose to become annexed.  Carver Park is located in the area within one mile of the town limits, and receives the benefit of some town services provided by Murfreesboro, like water and sewer. This benefit comes at a price, however.

Smith pointed out that the average Murfreesboro residents’ monthly water bill is $73 for the first 2,000 gallons. This bill includes water, sewer, and trash pickup. The average bill for a resident residing in Carver Park is $112 for the first 2,000 gallons and this does not include trash pick up.

Smith said that in a meeting with town administrators, “They suggested that the only way to receive rates comparable to the town of Murfreesboro, then we must become annexed to Murfreesboro, something that our parents and other relatives declined for whatever reason numerous years ago. We were given literature explaining the annexation process along with the suggestion to have our homes assessed for town taxes. That way we would have some idea of the potential cost to each of us individually should we decide to be annexed.”

On July 1 of this year, the town of Murfreesboro cut its sewage rates by 25 percent for all town and ETJ residents.

“That was the absolute best we could do,” said Brandon Holland, Murfreesboro Town administrator. “Anything beyond what has already been done, the town would take a significant hit to their finances. We are taking a little bit of a gamble doing what we have done because we are losing somewhere around $28,000 per month of revenue. From a financial standpoint, the town has exhausted all of its options.”

Holland also stated that the town still has several water and sewer projects underway that involve rehabbing the system.

In 2005, the state of North Carolina imposed a moratorium on new customers, businesses, and construction in the town because its wastewater treatment facilities had reached capacity. In 2006, using a combination of grant and loan money, Murfreesboro embarked upon upgrading its wastewater treatment system by building an additional lagoon and making other necessary improvements to the tune of over $6,000,000.

Smith said during her last meeting with Murfreesboro town officials, “they suggested that we present our case to you, the Board of Commissioners, to see if you could come up with ways to help us resolve our water bill issues. We were told that your powers supercede theirs and that they, Murfreesboro city council, would have to comply with whatever recommendations you make.”

Commission Chairman Curtis Freeman responded, “Ms. Smith brought this to me. It was alarming that we had the power to do something different and I explained to Ms. Smith that we (the county) have no authority over the jurisdiction of Murfreesboro and their water and their sewage. I also told her to come before us and we would have Murfreesboro officials here so we can get everything clear.”

In addition to Holland, Murfreesboro Town Council member Gloria Odum attended Monday’s meeting.

County Attorney Charles Revelle added to Chairman Freeman’s comments, saying, “A town is not required to provide services within that mile (their ETJ) but many towns do so. All of them, that I am familiar with, charge additional fees if they provide those services because residents outside the town limits in the ETJ are not paying town taxes. The county has absolutely no authority in this situation. It is an issue for the residents of Carver Park.  Do they want to be annexed and therefore pay town taxes, but also pay lower (water/sewer) rates?  The additional rate that you pay in Carver Park, it doesn’t just apply to Carver Park, it applies to anyone else that is supplied water by Murfreesboro that is outside the town limits.”

Hertford County Manager Loria Williams urged Carver Park citizens to become more familiar with the town and county budget processes.

“Every year they adopt a budget that shows the water and sewer rate cost and operational budget for that given year,” Williams noted. “You can get to see where that debt service is going and where your water bill is staying.  You don’t have to ask, you get to see that.

“By June 30 of every year, every municipality and county must have a balanced budget,” Williams added. “So June 30 you can walk in there and say let me see the water and sewer budget for Murfreesboro.”

Carver Park residents receive water, sewer, and fire services from the town of Murfreesboro and are under the jurisdiction of Hertford County for emergency services such as the Sheriff’s Office and EMS.  It is a historic African American community built in the early 20th Century.

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