Ordinance approved for sewer project

Published 9:42 am Wednesday, July 5, 2023

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JACKSON – In anticipation of an upcoming sewer extension project, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners approved a capital project ordinance at their meeting on June 19.

The project had been the topic of discussion during both of the June commissioners’ meetings, as they went over the fine details of the ordinance and heard concerns from citizens who live in the area where the proposed extension will occur.

The sewer extension is expected to cover parts of Highway 46 and River Road in the Lake Gaston area, particularly to help those with failing septic tanks. Currently, there is no date set for construction and the county is still seeking grant funds from USDA or other federal and state resources before they begin.

But the capital project ordinance is the first step in order to move forward.

“We have to [approve] it before you initiate the project,” stated County Manager Julian Phillips at the June 5 meeting, which was a non-voting work session.

He explained that moving forward without the ordinance in place would be a bad mark on the county’s future audit, and the county would also lose the opportunity to be reimbursed for any upfront costs that may incur, such as paying the cost of the engineering report.

Board Chair Charles Tyner said that USDA required them to have the ordinance on record before applying to receive grant or loan funds for the project, and that USDA would set the rates for users who hook onto the new sewer line.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner questioned the wording in the ordinance, specifically a part in Section 2 which read “the officers of this unit are hereby directed to proceed with the project to increase tax revenue for Northampton County.”

She stated her support for the project, but thought the use of the phrase “increase tax revenue” could be confusing to the public.

Board Attorney Scott McKellar said he believed the text meant that the sewer line extension is supposed to encourage economic development in the area, and therefore bring in more tax revenue. But he also then agreed to clarify the wording in the ordinance.

During the June 5 meeting, a group of citizens who live in the Lake Gaston area spoke up during the meeting to share that they were not in support of the proposed extension project and they wanted to know more about funding and costs before it began.

While the board did not respond during the June 5 meeting, Tyner said at their June 19 meeting that they plan to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds while also seeking more federal and state funding.

Northampton County has a total of $1.7 million of ARPA funds in the budget for Fiscal Year 2023-2024, but not all of those funds are planned to be used for the sewer project. And Tyner also said that if the county receives a state allocation – like they did to construct the new courthouse – then they will not need to use the ARPA funds at all for the project.

The board was presented with a revised capital project ordinance, which removed the part requested at the earlier meeting.

Before the commissioners could make a motion on the revised ordinance, however, a citizen in the audience spoke up to note that there were other errors in the text that should also be corrected. The board agreed to a brief recess to address those errors.

The suggested changes were to add “Highway 46” in addition to River Road as the location for the extension, and to remove an incorrect statement about the “land facing the lake in Roanoke Rapids” which is not located in Northampton County.

Attorney McKellar said his recommendation was to approve the ordinance with those additional revisions included.

Faulkner also wanted to include a mention of ARPA funds as well.

Commissioner Kelvin Edwards motioned to approve the ordinance with all the stated revisions, and Faulkner provided the second.

The vote passed unanimously.

During public comments at the end of the meeting, the same group of Lake Gaston residents still expressed concerns about the project and asked various questions about whether or not the project would proceed if no state or federal funding is secured.

As is the board’s policy, questions are given a subsequent written response and are not addressed during the meeting itself.