Village Makes Case for Deal on Utilities
Providing Pinehurst residents an ownership stake in their water future appears to be the driving factor that led the village to pursue the acquisition of water and wastewater treatment plants in Wagram.
The village hosted the first of what is planned to be a series of public information meetings on the $5.5 million deal Thursday. A packed house at the Village Assembly Hall that included both Pinehurst residents and elected officials from across the region listened to Councilman Jeff Dawson explain the reasoning behind the move.
Dawson also fielded 27 questions from members of the audience during a fast-paced question-and-answer session that took about 45 minutes. He said the Wagram plants represent the largest source of water to be owned by a governing agency in the Lumber River Basin.
"I think the village itself has always had a desire to have a seat at the table when it comes to our natural resources," he said. "While there have been attempts in the past to do things, those have failed and broken down for a number of reasons, and we're not going to get into a chat about the past.
"We (the Village Council) decided going forward, this may be the last best opportunity for us as a community to have control over that natural resource."
The village announced in July that it had reached an agreement in principle to purchase the water and sewer facilities, an intake line and 198 acres.
The village is now waiting for Scotland County to approve the deal. Dawson said he was confident that approval is forthcoming based on positive discussions with both Scotland County and Laurinburg officials.
"We have every reason to believe, as we sit here today, that we're going to get an approval in the coming weeks," he said.
After that approval, the village will under take a number of "due diligence" steps, including appraisals and a feasibility study that will estimate costs. If those studies reveal the plants aren't worth buying or the costs are too high, he said the village won't go through with the deal.
Dawson explained why the village decided to wait until after Scotland County votes the deal up or down before going through these steps.
"We came to the conclusion that if Scotland County has the final say," he said, "it didn't make a lot of sense for us to spend a lot of your money going through the feasibility study and all the other studies we have to do ... and then come to a 'no.' So we thought it made sense to be patient, let them go through their process in Scotland County, get the approvals, and then we'll move forward."
Dawson anticipates closing the purchase early next year.
The plants would bring with them more water than the village needs, so it is in the process of forming a regional consortium of partners to utilize them. Village officials view the facilities as a regional water solution.
An audience member asked Dawson what would happen if all of those partners backed out of the deal and the village was stuck holding the bag. Dawson called that the "disaster scenario," and while he considered it unlikely, the village would be able to absorb the $105 million cost to buy the plants, upgrade them, run a line to the village and build a new pipe grid.
He said that would be about the equivalent of what residents would pay to the county over the next 20 years if it stayed on the current system. But with the Wagram plants, the residents become owners instead of renters, he pointed out.
Residents also asked how the village plans to pay for the plants. Dawson said the council hadn't decided a course of action on that yet, but it is possible that the village could simply obtain financing for them.
The bond referendum passed by voters in 2003 that would have allowed the village to buy its portion of the county system could be used for this purchase, but Dawson said there's been no decision to use that yet. If the plants serve rural communities, Dawson said it was possible that the village would have a better chance of obtaining federal funds.
Dawson said he believes the village will not have to raise taxes to acquire the utilities.
"It's a simple redirection of the money you're spending today," he said.
Others in the audience raised concerns about the village's relationship with the county and how the purchase would affect it. Dawson acknowledged the strained relationship, but said he was confident that cooler heads would prevail and those issues could be worked out. Commissioner Tim Lea attended the meeting but did not speak.
Not everyone was sold on the plan, however. Some residents said it seemed too risky and felt that working with the county to improve the current situation was a better alternative.
Dawson said that no matter what it tries to do, the council will never be able to please all of its critics.
"At the end of the day, there are some folks in this community that if we could deliver Evian water to their house for free, they'd be complaining about it," he said. "We're not going to make everybody happy here, but we as a council are committed to doing the right thing to protect the interests of the taxpayers of Pinehurst.
"And we think the most important thing is for you is to control your destiny with regards to natural resources."
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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