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Developer will stick to regulations

WINDSOR – It will be business as usual in Bertie County.

That was the final response from the Bertie Board of Commissioners here Thursday morning during a special-called meeting dealing with, along with other matters, a proposal from a private developer in the county.

After calling the meeting to order, the commissioners convened as members of the Water District Board in order to discuss a proposal submitted by a developer on behalf of the Inns Brook project n a golf course and residential subdivision scheduled for construction on Avoca Farm Road.

While county officials welcomed the economic growth associated with an Arnold Palmer designed golf course and its surrounding residential lots, the commissioners decided Thursday to hold true to a set of rules and regulations set forth by their predecessors in 1995.

The issue boiled down to the concerns of County Attorney Lloyd Smith in regards to correspondence he has engaged in with the Inns Brook developers and their attorneys. Smith said the project wanted to tap into Bertie's rural water system, but the developer expressed a desire to handle the internal aspect of constructing their own waterlines to the residential and commercial properties.

"They want to internally build their own water system off the county's system," Smith explained. "However, according to county ordinance set forth in 1995, the county is responsible for everything between the water main and the water meter."

The question before the commissioners was whether to follow existing regulations or allow for alterations.

"You are within your rights to modify any regulation, but they must be modified in a way that does not violate the North Carolina Constitution, especially the laws dealing with access to public water," Smith said.

Smith continued, "If they want to build a private water system for the subdivision and the golf course, then so be it. But their system cannot tie into a public water system funded by taxpayer dollars. A lot of the things I'm seeing in their proposed contract violates the state constitution."

Smith even questioned the need for a contract.

"If they opt not to construct a private water system, then they have to fulfill their promise of water to the subdivision," Smith noted. "Bluntly speaking, they need you and they need Bertie's rural water system. There is no need for a contract. They simply need to abide by your existing guidelines, unless you plan to change them."

Rick Harrell, chairman of the board, said the county's engineer, Charles Joyner, needs to design the rural water system's expansion into Inns Brook. "Even if the developer opts to hire a private engineering firm, which is within their rights, to design their internal water system that is connected to our public water system, then our engineer, as required by our regulations, still has the right to inspect and ensure compliance of their system," Harrell said.

Additionally, Smith reported to the board that the developer's proposal included special water rates for homeowners in the subdivision. He said they asked for a 10-year flat rate, a fee locked in for that period of time.

"You cannot agree to that type of deal without offering the same to everyone using Bertie's rural water system," Smith noted.

Also, Smith informed the commissioners that the developer was asking to handle the billing of water services to the subdivision, of course forwarding the money to the county.

"The county should be responsible for handling the billing, not the developer," Smith said. "It's like they're saying they want you to build their water system off your water system and they benefit from that."

Harrell polled the commissioners, all of whom were present at Thursday's meeting with the exception of vice-chairman Norman Cherry. However, due to the importance of the meeting, Cherry was connected through a telephone in the commissioners room where he was able to listen and share his thoughts.

After soliciting their ideas of possibly changing the existing regulations, Harrell learned his fellow board members were not in favor of such a move.

"I guess we'll live by what we already have," Harrell said.

With that, Harrell instructed Smith to convey the board's decision by letter to the developer, explaining the county leaders will follow existing regulations regarding private installation of public water lines.