After approving a spike in residential water and sewer rates in order to help out the town’s struggling fund in May, the Garland Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved decreasing the rates now that the fund is in better shape. The board also approved pursuing possible beer and wine sales on Sunday, a move that would necessitate a special vote.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting, the board voted unanimously to lower the in-town usage rates from $5.25 per 1,000 gallons to $3.50 for water, and from $5.70 per 1,000 gallons to $4 for sewer.
“We wanted to do that so it wouldn’t be so bad,” said Mayor Winifred Murphy. “We were able to make it not hurt so bad and still be OK.”
Murphy said an ongoing audit with Scott Bridgers revealed that the Garland Water and Sewer fund has improved, allowing the town to reduce the increased rates somewhat. In May, the town boosted its water and sewer rates significantly in an effort to keep the town’s fund from sinking.
At the beginning of the year, the town was sent a notification from the state of “a serious financial weakness in the Water and Sewer Fund, indicating that the water and sewer system may not be sustainable in its current form over the long term.”
Mike Hill, of the North Carolina Rural Water Association, told the board as much at a meeting in May, saying that raising rates would allow for capital reserve funds to be compiled in case of emergencies in the system. Should major repairs or improvements be needed, the town would be hard-pressed to pay for them in the fund’s current state, Hill noted. The town’s base water rate of $15.50 for 2,000 gallons and $4.50 for each additional 1,000 gallons was simply not enough, and was “killing” the town, he said.
In response, the board subsequently unanimously approved changing the water rate for in-town customers to a flat rate of $12, with a usage rate of $5.25 per 1,000 gallons. For sewer, the in-town customers will pay a flat rate of $20, with a usage rate of $5.70 per 1,000 gallons. While the usage rate was modified Tuesday, the flat rates did not change.
Bridgers continues to go over the town’s financial books in an effort to reconcile records. “He’s still working with us,” Murphy said.
Also at the meeting, the town board unanimously voted to direct attorney Joel Starling to begin proceedings to have a referendum that would allow beer and unfortified wine sales in town on Sunday. Currently, the town offers such sales from Monday through Saturday, but not on Sunday. Clinton offers Sunday sales, Murphy said.
“This was brought up over 10 years ago and nothing was ever done, and this is something commissioners wanted to try again,” said Murphy. “I’m sure that it will be a controversial issue, but it was brought up in terms of revenue and the board decided we should offer (the option) and let the residents decide.”
The matter is still left to iron out, but such referendums are often offered as part of special elections. According to Murphy, advised by Starling, the vote cannot be held on the same date of a Presidential election and must be held no earlier than 60 days and no later than 120 days after the request is made to put it on the ballot. Murphy said such a vote could be placed on a special ballot in October, though nothing has been set.
In other business, Garland fire chief Thomas Norris proposed to purchase a parcel of land at the Garland Industrial Park for $20,000. The park, located in a residential area off of N.C. 411 toward Roseboro, was purchased by the town more than a decade ago and Murphy said the board “wants to be careful” about locating a fire station there because of the area’s residential status.
Norris has made similar proposals regarding the relocation of the Garland Volunteer Fire Department station to the industrial park property in recent years, but has been rebuffed in favor of further negotiations. No commitment was made Tuesday by the board, which is expected to consider the proposal. The next town meeting is slated for Aug. 14.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.