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Going with the flow

Residents of Lewiston-Woodville express their concerns Tuesday evening during a Town Hall Meeting with the Bertie County Commissioners at the Perdue Farms Conference Room.  The meeting was to hear citizen concerns about the town’s transition from a municipal to county-operated water system.  | Staff Photos by Gene Motley

Residents of Lewiston-Woodville express their concerns Tuesday evening during a Town Hall Meeting with the Bertie County Commissioners at the Perdue Farms Conference Room. The meeting was to hear citizen concerns about the town’s transition from a municipal to county-operated water system. | Staff Photos by Gene Motley

LEWISTON – While their numbers were small, they tried to represent as much of their neighbors’ concerns over the new water system as possible.

Bertie County’s Board of Commissioners turned out for a special Town Hall meeting here Tuesday night to hear concerns and take questions from Lewiston-Woodville residents about the new water system.

The Lewiston-Woodville system, along with the one for the town of Roxobel, part of Water District III, merged with the county as of July 1, 2015, adding a little more than 300 new customers to the county system and another 160 for Roxobel; part of over 5,000 customers county-wide.

Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer demonstrates the new water meters some Lewiston-Woodville residents could have installed with the transition to the county water system.  Some town water meters were as much as 50 years old.

Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer demonstrates the new water meters some Lewiston-Woodville residents could have installed with the transition to the county water system. Some town water meters were as much as 50 years old.

This past weekend County Manager Scott Sauer and his staff had tried to make contact by phone and email with many of the residents.

Several customers had expressed concerns about the new system from complaints over meter readings to discrepancies over water usage and billing.

With all five Commissioners present: Chairman John Trent, who represents Lewiston-Woodville as part of District IV, vice-chair Ernestine (Byrd) Bazemore, along with fellow Commissioners Tammy Lee, Ron Wesson, and Stewart White, as were Lewiston-Woodville mayor Dayle Vaughan along with several Town Commissioners of the two municipalities.

“With any transition there could be bumps in the road,” Sauer said. “Our task is to try to ease that, so we came here to take your questions, thoughts, suggestions, and to hear from you.”

Currently, the county water rate is $15.50 per month and $4.50 for each additional 1,000 gallons. That’s down from the flat fee of $20 a year ago.

“The customers using the least amount of water are paying the lowest rates,” Sauer said.

Paying respect to seasonal winter conditions as well as the possibility of water leaks, Sauer and County Water Superintendent Ricky Spivey went on to display the new replacement water meters some residents will receive in the future. The new meters will replace those that have been in use by the town since the 1960’s.

“These (new meters) are much more accurate, a lot more cost-effective, and where we hope to end up is with a meter that can be read either by radio, or by touch,” said Sauer displaying one of the new meters.

Following the display was a question-and-answer period from the audience.

Former mayor Martha Thompson expressed concerns about aging water lines, to which Sauer replied that an effort would be made to try and upgrade some of the lines, as able, through loans and grants. Vaughan said the town was currently in the process of applying for such a grant.

Ollie P. Bond inquired about discrepancies in her water bill since the change-over. She said Spivey’s department installed a new meter at her residence that more accurately reflected her monthly usage.

“I’m pleased that I have a new meter,” she stated with a smile.

Thompson asked about any leniency the county allows when there is a question of usage based on a meter reading. Vaughan said two adjustments had been allowed per year as long as the customer is in good standing.

White asked those attending if they were aware of ways to check for leaks before calling for a plumber, and if there was anything the county provided to assist in locating indoor leaks.

Spivey suggested using a dye – sometimes even Kool-Aid – to check for commode leaks, and recommended customers are diligent in seeking out small water leaks around the household.

“If your rate is too high, there are a lot of ways to deal with it,” suggested Wesson. “There are remedies; older homes have older pipes. The key is don’t be frustrated, give us a chance to check it out and make it right.”

“We want everybody to know we’re here to work with you on these issues and not against you,” said Trent.

“Mayor Vaughan could definitely use $4 million from the Clean Water Trust Fund,” said White. “She needs to keep the waste-water rate at $30 to maintain and operate that system and hopefully get some grant dollars to alleviate any further increases from the citizens. It’s commendable what you do with so little.”

Spivey said his department is doing as much as it can to upgrade the system, but his office has to be alerted to possible problems.

“The only way I’m going to know about it is if you let me know, so we can get to these problems as quickly as we can,” Spivey said.

Bond asked if the county could include its own envelope with the bill mailings, saving the customer from either using their own or paying in person.

Town Commissioner Chris Cordon asked about the county setting delinquent dates so that customers on fixed incomes could know about these due dates in advance, thus avoiding a possible cut-off.

Spivey said mostly customers with a history of delinquent payment were the ones most vulnerable to cutoffs.

“Usually a call is made,” Spivey noted.

Vaughan and the Commissioners also said they had heard from citizens about due dates and about alternate payment locations.

Among the ideas the audience suggested was payment drop-box locations in the areas now served with county water, and even credit card readers for those customers who don’t often pay in cash; though such readers do come with additional costs passed along.

“We’ve had so many things on our agenda,” said Lee, “that some things have been pushed back. But just give us some time to work on it. These things can’t happen overnight.”

The group thanked the Commissioners for hearing their concerns and ideas and before dismissal the gathering ended with a suggestion that perhaps a future Town Hall meeting could be scheduled for earlier than the evening.