FAIRMONT — Mayor Charles Kemp, saying he had “no choice,” on Tuesday broke a tie vote among Fairmont’s commissioners to enact a 10 percent increase on the town’s base water and sewer rates.
The new annual rate of $46.71 comes out to $4.26 a month — or 14.01 cents per day, as Commissioner Wayland Lennon phrased his motion to approve the proposed hike “to give some perspective.” The new rate will be effective on February’s bill.
The proposed rate increase was added to the board’s agenda after a meeting with the Local Government Commission that Town Manager Linda Vause called “disturbing.” According to Vause, the commission would not give its approval for Fairmont to sell revenue bonds to pay for rehabilitation of sewer lines unless the town was able to raise revenue to make payments on the loan that will help to fund the $1 million project.
The commission recommended a rate increase of 10 to 15 percent and expected an answer today, Vause said. According to Vause, if the town did not comply, it would lose the $600,000 Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant it received for the rehabilitation project.
After much discussion, Commissioners Wade Sealey and Kim Ammons voted in favor of Lennon’s motion to approve the fee hike, and Commissioners J.J. McCree, Charles Townsend and Carol Leak-McKenzie voted against.
Kemp called the split vote “surprising,” saying that “by not increasing rates, we would do much more harm to this community then by passing a $4.26 base rate increase.”
“The state agencies would not permit us to do the things that are essential to provide basic services for our community if we did not raise these rates,” he said. “I had no choice but to do what was best for the citizens of this town.”
The increase is not enough to repair or replace the town’s well on Gertrude Street, which is in danger of failing. The board approved an emergency water agreement with Robeson County, which will allow the town to receive county water if needed. The agreement was signed with the contingency that a 90-day notice be given before any fee increase.
The board increased the water and sewer fees by $2 a year in July.
The faces of the board were grim as they heard from Ronnie Seals, director of Public Works, who told them that a clarifier in one of the town’s sewer plants had broken and the plant was down. Seals said he had received estimates for parts that totaled about $10,000, and guessed that the job would cost the town about $25,000 and take at least a month to complete.
“The situation we’re in now, we’re not talking just about Fairmont,” he said. “We’re talking about Proctorville, we’re talking about Orrum, we’re talking about Cerro Gordo, we’re talking about Fair Bluff.”
Vause told the board that the town “luckily” had about a $30,000 contingency in its budget that has not yet been touched and should take care of the project. The announcement required no action from the board, but Seals and Vause both said that the commissioners should be made aware when a large repair to the town’s infrastructure is necessary.
Seals said the town “was still in operation” because it has two sewer plants. He said if the second plant was to go out, the town would have to find someone to haul its waste at a cost of about $7,000 per day.
“This is a little different then the well,” he said. “We can get by without the well — we’ve got backup county. When this goes down, we’re getting by with one. But this other one, if for God’s sake something was to happen and it goes down, we’re in big trouble.”
As the meeting came to a close, Vause said that the town would open its garbage collection up for bids when Waste Management’s contact is up.
In other action on Tuesday, the board:
— Honored Jamaree Morgan, from Rosenwald Elementary; Shelia Huggins, from Fairmont Middle School; and Quenton Walker, from Fairmont High School, as the town’s students of the month. Each student was given a certificate.
— Honored several members of the town’s Emergency Services Department, who gave their time on New Year’s Eve to help with the Santa Visits the Kids program.
— Heard from Kemp, who told the board that his JOBS program had sent out a list of businesses that the town is seeking to about 2,000 people and had received four inquiries.
— Heard from Danny Parker, director of Public Safety, who presented the board with a report for 2012.