W.P. Council Rejects Water Company Purchase Study
The Whispering Pines Village Council voted Wednesday against investigating the feasibility of purchasing the private company that provides its water.
The council voted 3-2 against spending $25,000 for a study that would consider the feasibility of a $5 million bond issue to finance the purchase of Carolina Water Service Inc.
Council member Skip Gebhardt proposed the measure to the council. He said the purchase would allow the village to control its water supply and determine its own water rates.
Carolina Water, which purchases water from Southern Pines, receives roughly $53,000 per month in revenues from the village.
Gebhardt added that the village would need to determine the condition of its underground water system in considering the purchase.
"We need some expertise to tell us whether or not the infrastructure is there or whether or not the finances are there," he said.
Council members questioned the proposal of spending money just to determine if the village can finance an expensive project.
Council member Paul Sams said that the council should not be considering a $5 million purchase when it just approved a conservative budget for the year.
Mayor Pro Tem Molly Boggis said there were too many unforeseen costs associated with the potential purchase.
"I'm not in favor of buying a water company," Boggis said. "I think there are too many unknowns. It's extremely expensive. It takes a long time to set it up. The infrastructure keeps wearing and tearing. It's daily maintenance. It's more than just, 'The pipes are there, it'll be fine.'"
Boggis, Sams and Randy Saunders voted against the measure, while Gebhardt and Mayor Bob Zschoche voted for it.
Saunders said the proposal raises a more pressing issue regarding the sale of Carolina Water's portion of the Thagards Lake dam.
Years ago, a state study determined that the Carolina Water portion of the dam needed repairs, but the state did not establish a timeline for the water company to make the repairs.
The property is currently for sale.
Saunders said the council should look into the legal obligations that Carolina Water has for repairing its portion of the dam to prevent a potential emergency.
"Can they just let it go even though there are approximately 100 homes on Thagards that would drastically have major reductions in their property value?" Saunders asked. "If that is true, then as a separate whole deal, we need to talk about buying that property."
Zschoche said state law does not require a property owner to make repairs to a dam or disclose any structural problems to a potential buyer in the sale of the property. He added that if Carolina Water did choose to make the repairs, it would have to use revenues taken in company-wide, not just from Whispering Pines.
He said he could see why a company would choose not to make repairs if there was no legal obligation.
The council asked its staff to consult with village attorney Mike Brough to determine the extent of Carolina Water's liability for its portion of the dam in the event of an emergency.
The council also adopted a resolution supporting the exploration of establishing a countywide water-sewer authority with the Moore County Summit Water Task Force.
Gebhardt voted against, saying that such entities tend to support political interests rather than citizens. He cited the recent scandal with the state ABC board as an example.
Zschoche countered Gebhardt's argument, saying that water is a finite resource that affects the well-being of each person in Moore County. He said that the village must support the resolution "in the interest of being a part of a community, not just a municipality."
The council also approved a revised water shortage ordinance for the village. The amended code aligns with the water conservation standards imposed by the town of Southern Pines in the event of a water shortage.
In other business, the council also held a public hearing for additional input on the latest changes to its land development ordinance (LDO).
The only major change resulting from the hearing was a clarification of the word "office" in the conditional-use table under the Neighborhood Shopping zoning district.
Boggis stressed that though the council hopes to pass the final version of the LDO soon, the document will always be in a state of evolution as the village makes changes to make its ordinance up-to-date.
"This is not set in stone," she said. "It may change. It will change."
The council has scheduled a public hearing for the LDO's new zoning map for its next regular meeting Oct. 13.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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