EDITORIAL: On Wagram Deal, More Complication
Delay, not necessarily setback, is the latest development in the village of Pinehurst's effort to acquire privately owned utilities in Scotland County.
In a joint meeting Monday, the Scotland County Board of Commissioners and the Laurinburg City Council agreed to postpone their decision on the Pinehurst bid to acquire water and sewer systems that formerly served a huge textile plant near Wagram.
Leaders of both local governments hinted that approval is likely. They just want to make sure a decision to allow the sale will not jeopardize water availability to their own constituents.
An outsider can see the irony in a wealthy municipality's attempt to buy utilities now in the geographical possession of a relatively poor community. The same outsider can also view the situation in reverse as a case of a community blessed with riparian wealth holding off the encroachment of a distant, water-starved municipality.
In truth, the Scotland County and Laurinburg city leaders are simply trying to make sure that their people are protected from the same water deprivation that has plagued Moore County and other parts of North Carolina. The 90-day postponement provides time to examine their own long-term water needs.
The two local governments had already been studying the prospect of boosting their water resources by acquiring the privately owned facilities. Now they must hasten a decision in the wake of the Pinehurst offer.
The people in Scotland County must grapple with several questions, in addition to the key issue of water needs. Scotland is a poor county with a low tax base, the highest tax rate and the highest unemployment rate in North Carolina.
Would it serve county interests best to allow the sale and perhaps to collaborate with Pinehurst in development of a regional water system? Or would this be a disadvantage because by selling the utilities to a municipality, the county would lose a substantial amount of property tax money? After all, government-owned property is not subject to property taxes.
Pinehurst has offered $5.5 million for facilities formerly used by the West Point Pepperell textile plant and for surrounding acreage near the banks of the Lumber River. The owner, WP Properties Wagram LLC, appears willing to sell, but state law requires approval by the county.
County Should Take Lead
Here in Moore County, a different set of questions arises. The Wagram area facilities are designed to treat seven million gallons a day and possibly could be expanded to handle at least twice that amount, but how much would the upgrade cost? And how much would it cost to build water and sewer lines from the Lumber River deep in Scotland County all the way to Moore County? One estimate is $33 million.
Just how sincere is the interest expressed by municipalities in developing a regional system? In the past, most municipalities in Moore County have been paternalistic about their utilities.
The key question surrounds the county's relationship with Pinehurst if the village decides to go it alone and buy the out-of-county facilities.
The wisdom of the Pinehurst initiative may be questionable, but the village's action proves its ability to act boldly and with imagination. After all, Pinehurst forms the principal customer base in the county's water system. It's well past time for Moore County leaders to ask themselves if it is time to quit sitting on their hands, get in the game and take the lead.
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