Rural water districts to see fee increase

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 22, 2006

WINTON – Residents in Hertford County’s Northern and Southern rural water districts will see an increase in their bills starting July 1.

At the Hertford County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night, County Manager Loria Williams introduced new fee schedules for several countywide services.

The new fee schedules included initial rates for Geographical Information System (GIS) data. The county has designed a digital database that allows the county to offer DVD’s, and color images of topographical maps, soil layers as well as county and municipal boundaries.

New rates for building inspection permit fees as well as building occupancy fees for both commercial and residential structures were introduced and approved by the board for a July1 start date as well.

The most glaring rate adjustment came in the form of an increase in the water rate for residential customers in the Northern and Southern Districts.

Citizens living in those two areas will see an increase in the minimum-billing rate from $17 to $20.

The minimum billing rate covers water usage up to the first 2,000 gallons used.

The commissioners appeared none to eager to accept the rate increase, but felt it was necessary to maintain fiscal responsibility for all of the county’s residents.

Commissioner Dupont Davis acknowledged his aversion to having such a major increase, but deemed it necessary.

&uot;It is my understanding that in theory each district should be self sufficient,&uot; Davis stated &uot;We do not have countywide water service and it appears those citizens who are receiving county water are having to absorb the costs of these outlying districts.&uot;

County Financial Officer Robbin Stephenson presented a budget amendment to the board that showed a Fund Balance appropriation of $95,175 towards the Northern Water District.

County Manager Loria Williams confirmed the appropriation was to offset the cost of the construction of the water lines, well systems and towers used to service those districts.

&uot;We are tasked with balancing the county budget to the penny before the upcoming fiscal year,&uot; Williams stated. &uot;The county is still repaying the loan used to make those infrastructure improvements. The fact that we were forced to tap into our Fund Balance is an indicator that the Enterprise Fund established for the Northern and Southern water districts has not been self supporting to this point. We are optimistic that new rate increase will allow residents in those districts to maintain their own infrastructure needs.&uot;

Commissioner Johnnie Farmer expressed concern over the fund transfer.

&uot;I am reluctant to approve of this rate increase and revenue transfer because it appears on the surface as if the county is losing money,&uot;Farmer said. &uot;It’s not the way we want to be doing business.&uot;

Williams, however was optimistic about the future of the enterprise funds for the rural areas.

&uot;It is indeed a pretty sizeable loan that we are repaying,&uot;

Williams said. &uot;This adjustment will allow the citizens of the Northern and Southern water districts to pay for their services with the user fees that come out of their own pockets. It actually makes the entire budget process work like it’s supposed to. I am confident that we shouldn’t have to open this can of worms again.&uot;

In other news;

The board agreed to address the issue concerning the absence of a warning signal at a railroad crossing located at Brick Mill Road near Aulander. The crossing is situated just between Bertie and Hertford counties. The residents of the area feel that the crossing is unsafe, as many residents have had &uot;near miss&uot; incidents. The board agreed to forward a letter to the NC DOT requesting the department act on the matter.

Commissioner Davis confirmed that Hertford County was one of several districts in line to receive Medicaid relief from the state’s surplus fund, although no timetable had been set as to when the funds would be available.

North Carolina is the only state that requires counties to pay a fixed percentage of the state’s Medicaid share, even though the state and federal governments make all decisions regarding eligibility, services and reimbursement rates. This burden has forced many counties to raise property taxes significantly or cut services to meet their Medicaid mandate. In 2005-06, 45 counties increased property taxes, including 19 counties that raised property taxes by at least 10 percent.