Village Deal on Utilities Defended
The Pinehurst Village Council defended its proposed deal to buy water and sewer plants in Wagram Tuesday during its work session.
While discussion of the deal was not listed on the brief agenda for the meeting, talk started during the public-comment portion after frequent council critic Doug Middaugh asked if it planned to hold public information meetings or a bond referendum similar to what was approved in 2003 for the village to buy a portion of the county's water system.
Councilman Jeff Dawson responded that the village has always planned on holding public meetings on the deal. The first one will be held at 5 p.m. Oct. 1.
He said a referendum would not be necessary because the council isn't pursuing a bond issue.
Dawson also took exception to pieces written by Middaugh and Paul Dunn in The Pilot, which he said were inaccurate.
"You have to understand, Doug," Dawson said, "everything you've written has been wrong about this deal. Everything that Mr. Dunn has written is factually inaccurate. I'm amazed that neither one of you had the courtesy to call anyone here to ask any of these questions before you published some of this 'letters to the editor diatribe' you all like to do."
Dawson reminded Middaugh that the village has an agreement to purchase the utilities in place and it must follow a "series of order" and hoped to obtain Scotland County's approval to make the purchase before moving forward on other steps.
The Scotland County Board of Commissioners recently delayed approval of the deal for up to 90 days to study it further in conjunction with the city of Laurinburg. Because the village is a municipality from another county, Scotland County must approve the deal because the property lies within its jurisdiction.
The village had hoped to close the transaction in late October or early November.
In July, the village announced it would acquire a water treatment plant, a wastewater treatment plant, a raw water intake, and 198 acres of land on the Lumber River for $5.5 million. The facilities previously served a West Point Pepperell textile mill.
The village sees the plants as a regional water solution and hopes to build a regional partnership to utilize the plants.
"If we don't get that approval," Dawson said, "it would be too costly to go through [the steps] before that approval. A lot of that is due diligence -- we're going to do that after the approval.
"But one of the things we've always planned to do is hold a public information briefing and a conversation with our community about it. And we plan to do that, and it's already scheduled."
Village Manager Andy Wilkison said Thursday that the public information session on Oct. 1 would include short presentations from council members and staff, and would allow for questions and dialogue with members of the audience. The village has also published a public briefing package on its Web site that is available to all residents.
"We've worked very hard to provide every piece of information we could to Scotland County so they could make a timely and informed decision," Dawson said, "and we've been in constant communication with them, and continue to do so, both at the staff level and the elected official level. And until they're comfortable, we don't expect a vote. We do expect a vote eventually, and we're optimistic that vote will be yes.
"And there's no reason to expose all of the due diligence, all of the money, all of the cost, and all of the work that needs to be done prior to that vote if they end up voting no. Boy, you'd (Middaugh) be the first person to beat us up over that."
Dawson then again took aim at Middaugh's and Dunn's opinion pieces, which prompted a back and forth exchange between he and Middaugh. Dawson called their articles "silly" and accused both of being uninformed about the issue, which Middaugh denied.
Mayor George Lane cautioned against allowing the conversation to "deteriorate."
"If you want to get your facts straight and beat me up over the fact, that's fine," Dawson said. "But if you want to just do what you're doing, I think it's silly. It's a disservice to the community, that's all."
Mayor Pro Tem Lorraine Tweed said all the council wants to do is "to provide water for future generations to come."
Council member Ginsey Fallon added: "It's an opportunity that we could not turn our back on."
Middaugh responded to Dawson in an e-mail he shared with The Pilot and defended what he has written.
"To say that all my facts were wrong is unsubstantiated and really nothing but a bully pulpit statement for benefit of The Pilot," he wrote.
In related news Tuesday, the Southern Pines Town Council approved a resolution to discuss initial participation in a regional partnership to utilize the plants if the deal is approved. The village has had open discussions with Southern Pines, Aberdeen, Laurinburg, Scotland County and other smaller municipalities about forming a regional consortium.
"[The resolution] says nothing other than the fact that we are willing to sit down and talk about this and have an interest in it so the local government commission can begin looking at Pinehurst financing options," Town Manager Reagan Parsons said.
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org,
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