Water rates too low?

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 17, 2007

WINDSOR – To raise or not to raise, that is the question.

It’s a question Town of Windsor officials will be considering about the water rate in the coming months following reports by a representative of the Wooten Company.

Marie Peedin came before the board of commissioners during their regular monthly meeting last Thursday (Dec. 13) to discuss options for funding future projects for Windsor’s water system.

One thing Peedin said was definitely needed is a fifth well for the town.

&uot;For one thing, the town’s been having trouble with a high rate of fluoride in the water,&uot; she began.

The water is fine for drinking, according to Peedin, but when it goes through the wastewater treatment there is too much fluoride to remove so the treated water doesn’t pass the state’s sedimentation rate.

For that reason, the town keeps getting notices from the state for failure to comply. Peedin told the commissioners that the high sedimentation rates mean the treated water can’t be dumped into a creek, or any body of water.

Commissioner O. Wint Hale remarked, &uot;So we can drink it but the fishes can’t?&uot;

According to Peedin, one possible solution to that problem would be to treat rainwater in addition to wastewater.

&uot;This town is in an interesting situation. It’s not ideal to treat rainwater, but you need to dilute your water somehow,&uot; she stated.

Another reason Peedin suggested putting in a new well is to get the town’s water capacity back up. One of the town’s four wells went out last year and a new well put on the same property didn’t yield much water.

&uot;We can do the new well just past the US 17 bypass and get good water there so we can do a blending of (treating) rainwater and wastewater,&uot; Peedin stated.

In order to fund the $800,000 project, the town would need to either apply for a grant or borrow the money.

A $100 million pot of money is currently available for grant funding of water infrastructure projects through the Rural Center.

Each municipality can apply for up to $500,000 in funds for the matching grant. Most towns and counties would be required to pay dollar-for-dollar matching, but because Windsor lies in Tier-I Bertie County, it would have to contribute just $300,000 to get the full amount.

However, in order to be eligible for the Rural Center grant, the town would have to raise its water rates to comply with their standards.

That would mean a 31 percent increase in water costs for the town – from an average bill of $24 a month up to an average of $31 a month.

Peedin explained, &uot;The state wants to see that the community is willing to pay to put money back into their own system.&uot;

Windsor Mayor Bob Spivey is opposed to the idea of having to raise the town’s water rates.

&uot;What (the rate criteria) really does is penalizes you for efficiency (in the water system),&uot; Spivey stated.

He then asked Peedin if there are other agencies that can help without having to penalize Windsor citizens.

Peedin replied, &uot;No, everyone really wants to see that citizens are willing to contribute funds. I guess they figure if people can afford $75 cell phones and cable bills, what’s a $7 increase in water.&uot;

Spivey remained firm in his opposition.

&uot;It’s not my decision, but I would not recommend that we raise (water) rates without serious study; I recommend that we see what other avenues there are out there,&uot; he stated.

Peedin responded, &uot;You’re not going to be getting any more grants from anyone where you’re at right now, period. The government wants to see that 1.5 percent contribution.&uot;

That percentage is in reference to the Rural Center’s new requirement that the average household in an eligible municipality must pay at least 1.5 percent of its gross monthly income for its water bill.

In Windsor, 1.5 percent would equate to an average monthly water bill of $31.

A check by the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development found that their requirement is a minimum household average monthly bill of $29.

Since the deadline for the Rural Center grant application was Monday, the board voted to go ahead and apply for the grant, but with the stipulation that they will study the water rates and if it is found that it’s not feasible to raise rates, they will withdraw the application.