LGC declares Gates County as ‘distressed unit’

Published 4:56 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2022

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RALEIGH – The Local Government Commission (LGC) has added Gates County to a list of “distressed units” due to what it deemed as “[exceeding] thresholds for two consecutive years for scores adopted by the LGC and SWIA (State Water Infrastructure Authority) to assess the infrastructure, organizational and financial components of drinking or wastewater systems.

State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell made the announcement on Monday of this week following a meeting of the LGC held on April 26. That meeting was held to address counties and municipalities who need assistance fixing failing water and sewer infrastructure.

Fowell said those needing assistance can apply for grant money from the state Department of Environmental Quality through the Viable Utility Reserve (VUR) fund. That fund, created by the North Carolina General Assembly, improves and sustains water and wastewater systems. It also required the LGC and the SWIA to develop criteria to identify distressed units.

Gates County Manager Tim Wilson he is not aware of all the criteria used by the LGC to designate a local government as a distressed unit in the operation of its water and wastewater systems, other that it is a combination of financial, organizational, and operational factors.

‘The upside to the designation is that it makes the county eligible for potential grant dollars to correct problems and deficiencies with its systems that were not before available,” Wilson told the Gates County Index.

“[North Carolina] is a state where some geographic regions face the stress of depopulation, loss of businesses and declining tax bases that make it difficult for local governments to upgrade or replace deteriorating infrastructure and still provide other basic services,” Fowell said. “Failing water and sewer systems pose financial, environmental and public health risks to a community.

“People have a right to clean, accessible and affordable water and sewer services,” he added. “We are doing our best to assist these local governments, and this latest action by the LGC to identify local governments with distressed water and wastewater systems under the VUR legislation is one more example of that. But the list is long and getting longer.”

Joining Gates as “distressed units” are the counties of Beaufort, Carteret, Edgecombe, Nash, Stanly and Vance, along with the towns of Edenton, Granite Falls, Madison, Rutherfordton, and Stovall.

The LGC collaborates with local governments to offer expert assistance and find solutions. It has a statutory duty to monitor the financial well-being of more than 1,100 local government units. When local governments seek tax-free financing for projects, the commission examines whether the amount of money to be borrowed is adequate and reasonable, and confirms the governmental units can reasonably afford to repay the debt.