Gates County Commissioners adopt CIP
Published 5:30 pm Friday, April 14, 2023
GATESVILLE – Customers of the Gates County Public Water system are less than two weeks in to experiencing a hike in their bi-monthly bills.
They may be in store for another increase to those bills, but there’s no need for alarm as this latest proposal is only five cents and will only impact those whose water usage over the two-month billing cycle exceeds 8,000 gallons.
This newest proposal – which must first face a public hearing – is actually geared to promote conservation of water. That, in turn, will help the county earn much-needed “points” on applications that are pending to the state for grant funding. Those funds, if awarded, will allow the county to make repairs to its aging public water system.
The water conservation plan was part of the discussion among the county’s board of commissioners when they met with Rodney Tart of Green Engineering on April 6 (a continuation of a special called meeting on April 5). Tart was on hand to address the need for the county to adopt a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for its Public Utilities Department.
“It’s a 10-year plan from which you select projects to be considered when you are applying for funds from the State of North Carolina,” Tart told the commissioners.
He said the two “highest scoring projects” are $1.4 million the replace the Gatesville water tank, and $2.2 million for the old wastewater treatment plant replacement and rehab.
Tart noted that the projects listed on the plan are exactly that – only a plan.
“It doesn’t mean you’re going to do everything on there,” he said, referencing the 10-year plan. “It doesn’t get serious until your county finance director and the county manager prepare a project ordinance. When this board adopts a project ordinance, that’s when it becomes an official project.”
He added that the Capital Improvement Plan is put together for two reasons…(1) for the Public Utilities Department Director and the County Manager to carefully study the projects that will best improve the overall operation of the county’s public water system; and (2) the opportunity to move projects from one year to another, depending on priority, within that 10-year period.
Tart said in the fall of this year, his firm will assist the county in applying for a $300,000 state grant that will cover the cost of an asset inventory assessment.
“Gates County stands a good chance of obtaining that grant because ya’ll are recognized by the state as a distressed water system,” Tart said. “Once we get that money we can go in and do a more detailed assessment of all your public utilities assets. Once that’s done, some of these projects may move in priority and some we may not even know about right now can be added to the list of projects.”
Tart added that he views an asset inventory as a way to identify problems that if left unchecked will cost more to repair, which will drive up the water bills of the customers.
Commission Vice Chairman Jonathan Craddock made the motion to approve the Capital Improvement Plan. Commissioner Emily Truman offered a second and the motion was approved by a 5-0 vote.
With that, Green informed the board that his firm will be submitting funding applications for three projects in the Capital Improvement Plan: replacing the Gatesville water tank, water system improvements (one new well in the Gatesville area, stand-by power sources for all wells, improvements at the water plant, valve replacements near Sunbury, and improving water quality); and the plans for the old wastewater treatment plant.
He added that there will be another application this fall for a pre-construction planning grant ($400,000) to be used to evaluate what it will take to offer public sewer services to Gatesville.
Tart also addressed the fact that the county’s public water system depends on three wells, the largest of which (#3) pumps 770,000 gallons a day. The other two combined pump 667,000 gallons per day.
“My point of urgency here is if you lost well number three for any mechanical reason, then you’re down to 667,000 gallons for your entire system,” Tart said. “Right now your average day water usage is 925,000 gallons. Pump repairs to a well generally take much longer than one day, so we see the urgency for you to consider adding a new well.”
He also stressed that the county’s public water system is approaching 40-years-old and the Town of Gatesville’s system, which the county assumed operation, is over 50 years-old.
“I don’t know of anyone living in a 50-year-old home that hasn’t already made some type of improvements to it,” Tart said, referencing the generalized need for repairs due to age.
As for the plan to add a nickel per 1,000 gallons of bi-monthly use in excess of 8,000 gallons, Tart noted that the average household uses 4,000 to 4,500 gallons of water per month. Tart added that his suggestion of a slight increase to the water bills would be insignificant to the majority of the system’s customers. The more significant impact, he said, came when the county approved the water rate increases in February of this year.
Scott Sauer, the interim county manager, said he is well aware that the commissioners just recently approved increases to the water rates, which became effective April 1. However, he stressed that the two most recent funding requests, submitted to the state in the fall of last year, for water system improvements were not successful.
“The state identified how the scores can be improved on the applications that were not approved,” Sauer said. “One of those recommendations is the conservation rate structure, which basically only adds one nickel per thousand gallons after a consumer hits the 8,000 gallon threshold of bi-monthly water use.”
Looking at this from Gates County’s current two-month billing cycle, a water customer is billed $29 for the first 2,000 gallons and then $5 for each 1,000 gallons of usage. This new recommendation, which promotes water conservation, would add 5 cents to the per 1,000 gallons of usage once it exceeds 8,000 gallons.
This minor adjustment will add “points” to the county’s next application for state grants. Those applications are due May 1.
“Ya’ll need to do what you can to maximize the points awarded by the state on these applications because of the competitive nature of these grant requests that are coming from all across the state,” Tart said.
A change to the water rate will require a public hearing, which the commissioners approved for their next regularly scheduled meeting on April 19.
Also at the April 6 meeting, the commissioners approved a resolution that calls for the county to arrange for loans for all remaining funds not covered by a state grant for the water/sewer projects.