Robbins to Seek Public Input on Water Proposal
The Robbins commissioners want to hear from the public before deciding what to do about a proposed Northwest Moore Water District.
They have called a public hearing for 6 p.m. Monday, May 23, to consider public comment on the future of the town's water and sewer services.
The board met Tuesday night to review its initial thoughts about a proposal from the Moore County commissioners to add the town's 650 water customers to 2,600 customers from the Seven Lakes/West End area that could be served by the district. The North West Moore Water District (NWMWD) would be administered by the county board acting as a new NWMWD board, and the county would contract to run the water services.
That structure itself concerned a number of Robbins commissioners. Claire Barrow said similar districts in other states had their own independent boards, with membership drawn from the areas or customers served.
"They want to take off their commissioners' hats," Mayor Theron Bell said, "then, turn around and put on their water board hats."
Most commissioners wanted the new district to have a separate board of directors elected by the district to run the NWMWD and any other water entities in the county.
"There is a precedent that exists in other parts of the country whereby water districts are governed by a board of directors that is separate from the governing commissioners or supervisors," a comment sheet prepared by board members says. "There are numerous arguments that could be stated as to why the water district board should be separated from the elected county officials, with the main argument being the potential conflict of interest."
If there were to be such a board for NWMWD, the town of Robbins would want to have at least one representative on it.
Whether or not water rates to Robbins customers would actually decline - as the proposal suggests - or rise instead was another concern.
"The East Moore Water District's rates are higher than ours," said Town Manager George Hayfield.
Commissioner Hal Davis - who is director of public works for Carthage - mentioned several alternatives to joining a district. The town could drill wells near the existing reservoir that would produce more than enough water for the small number of customers in Robbins. As well water, it would come out of the ground in drinkable quality, he said.
"We would have to add chlorine," Davis said.
Another option would be for Robbins to invest in a small processing plant. Its old plant, all agreed, is virtually irreparable. The county proposal calls for constructing a new 1.5-million-gallon-per-day processing plant near the reservoir to serve NWMWD.
Davis said a small modern plant could be delivered by truck. Costs of such a plant were estimated at about $3 million.
Some commissioners were skeptical of that direction, noting that it is an expensive way to go that the town rejected some years back.
One proposed response to the county would be to lease the town reservoir to the district rather that selling it. Robbins could lease or rent its water facilities, including the wastewater treatment plant facility, to NWMWD.
The water district would then maintain and upgrade those facilities as needed. The lease/rent could be long term, but the town would hold title. Alternatively, the county could lease the property, with Robbins becoming a water district customer and keep its present town customers and buy water at a bulk rate.
The town and county could, as another option, form a partnership and build a larger plant, but Robbins would retain its present customer, keep the systems and charge the county fees for an agreed amount of water purchase at a bulk rate.
Robbins could sell its entire system and get completely out of the water and sewer business. Proposed purchase prices were $2 million each for the reservoir and town tanks and mains, and another $4 million for the sewer system and wastewater treatment plant. The entire system presently has an estimated value of $15 million.
In another proposal, NWMWD would pay off the existing debt service for the Spies Road water line and the sewer plant (about $1.2 million) and the town would then transfers all assets related to the water and sewer plant, including customers, water lines, water storage tanks, reservoir, raw water impoundment and intake structures initially.
In the third year following that, the NWMWD would begin to pay Robbins a total of $5.1 million on an installment agreement with annual payments of $204,000 for 25 years.
Other consideration raised by town commissioners related to how a NWMWD would operate. Some wanted a town employee to collect money so local customers could still pay their water bills in person at the town hall. Moore County public utilities would handle meter reading and repairs, but the town would continue to receive billed payments in Town Hall.
One town employee, Rodney Kiser, would keep his job but transfer to the county. The town would want have a first opportunity to provide NWMWD water at bulk rates to any new businesses moving to Robbins. Some wanted town residents to be guaranteed a discount on water and sewer services, or a guaranteed limit on base rates for a set number of years.
One unanswered question was whether the county's proposal could include taking over all of the town's water business, including its wastewater treatment plant. Others noted that transferring town assets like real estate might be a complicated legal matter that would require state review and approval.
"Any current or past state and federal loans or grants attached to the water or sewer systems would need to be carefully reviewed," they said. "Also a very careful look at the enterprise fund would be needed to determine what past transfers of funds might need to be paid back."
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story