Commissioners tackle county water issues

Published 8:24 am Monday, August 12, 2013

WINDSOR – In their monthly meeting here this past Monday the Bertie County Commissioners, acting as the Water District Board, heard several key matters and county concerns, but took no action.

First, county Water System Manager Ricky Spivey informed the board of the state’s new certification requirements for ORC (Operator in Responsible Charge) services. North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources Division of Water Quality now requires of ORC’s that their principal job responsibility is the actual physical operation of process equipment and systems at a water pollution control system. Spivey is seeking one or two back-up ORC’s with a contract to run the 12 months of the county’s fiscal year (July-to-June).

As of this week, Melvin Nichols and Marty Eure have met the state requirements and their names were submitted for consideration.

Commissioner Rick Harrell voiced his concern over the hiring practice.

“It should be a condition of employment when we look at hiring people that they understand and attend the state certification school,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they have to get the license, but the thing would be an incentive program based on pay.”

Harrell added that at some time perhaps the county manager’s office could look into that proposal.

“Right now we’re putting ourselves into a position where we’re going to have to enter into a contract with a back-up operator and pay that person money when we should have our own certified back-up operator in place,” he added.

Spivey said in addition to himself there is one other certified operator on staff.

CountyManager Scott Sauer stated that a contract had been prepared and added that some of its language needed to be fine tuned.

“If the governing body would approve the contract in rough form so that the final execution will be subject to review and edits and legal drafting by the county attorney’s office,” Sauer said.

In a later interview, Sauer made clear the back-up ORC’s function.

“These individuals would be available in a kind of a stand-by capacity,” Sauer said. “They can back us up so that we can maintain a state certified operator in charge.

“They will be treated as independent contractors,” he added. “They have been identified, selected, and are ready to go.”

Monday the board unanimously voted to approve the “rough draft” contract. Sauer says the final agreement is being reviewed by county attorney Lloyd Smith.

The second item considered was a new tank maintenance agreement with Southern Corrosion, Inc., based out of Roanoke Rapids, on the county’s four 500,000 gallon water tanks. The maintenance cost for the last fiscal year came to $54,975 under Bertie County’s old agreement with Utilities Service Group of Madison, NC, but fell to $45,358 with Southern Corrosion, which is a savings of $9,617.

The Utilities Service Group contract, which was originally to run thru 2015, was terminated in June.

Spivey told the board that there is no pending work currently on any of the BertieCounty water tanks.

“This represents a significant cost-saving to the county,” Sauer said.

The board took no action pending a review by the county attorney’s office.

The final item for the Water District board was over the expansion of the county water system.

Waterlines will be installed adjacent to all public streets within the Black Rock subdivision located off US Highway 17 along the Chowan River in Merry Hill when that work begins later this summer.

Black Rock residents or property owners desiring to tap into the waterline, and who had submitted water-use agreements in the 1990’s and in 2004 during an early sign-up campaign, would have paid the $50 deposit fee and need only pay an additional $50 tap fee to be connected.

Spivey says so far 30 residents/property owners have signed the original agreement.

Property owners who purchased a lot from a previous owner that had earlier paid the $50 deposit would now have to pay a new $50 deposit and a new tap fee of $1,000.

New applicants will pay a $50 deposit and a $1,000 tap fee.

That prompted discussion among the commissioners over the qualifications for the amount to be collected.

“How many of those people were there in the 90’s that were given the opportunity to sign up,” Commissioner Rick Harrell asked. “So other than that 30, those people would have to pay the new fee?”

“The Commissioner’s policy, or Bertie County’s policy, was that if the water system was under construction at the time that you wanted to sign up, and then you get the $50 tap fee,” said Harrell.

Commissioner Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson then commented, “My understanding was that when we ran it (county water) to Black Rock we asked those citizens to sign up then if they wanted to take advantage of it in the development.”

“The deal was as long as they owned the property at the time that they wanted to make the connection they would only have to pay a small addition,” Wesson said. “If the property were transferred, then null and void. The new people (owners) would have to pay the complete fee.”

The debate went back-and-forth among the commissioners over Black Rock property owners who had paid, and the people who had just purchased property.

Commission Chair J. Wallace Perry pointed out that other subdivisions in Bertie County weren’t eligible for the $50 tap fee, but instead had to pay the new amount.

“We wouldn’t change it for Black Rock,” Perry stated.

Perry pointed out that when the $50 fee was instituted it was done under a federal grant, but that the new expansion is not.

“Those property owners who made their initial deposit, their application or customer accounts, while they have not have been active, they will be honored so they have the benefit of the lower cost,” said County Manager Scott Sauer.

“The $50 deposit is required on any customer,” he added.

Tapping into the county water system is optional for Black Rock residents. Owners can still use their deep wells for outside use only, such as lawn irrigation, etc., but that waterline must be disconnected from the house.

Owners are also responsible for the cost of having a plumber connect their house to the county’s tap.