RED SPRINGS — The Red Springs Board of Commissioners is pondering raising water rates as part of an effort to ensure the receipt of federal dollars with which to rebuild the aging water treatment plant.
Robert Taylor, a Community Development Block Grant officer, told the commissioners on Tuesday that at least showing they are “ready to pull the trigger” on raising the rates will increase the likelihood of receiving a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan.
“You don’t have to raise the rates now,” Taylor said.
But raising the rate to something close to the North Carolina mean rate of $31 a month for 5,000 gallons of water usage would prove to the USDA that the town has the revenue stream to pay back a loan, he said.
Red Springs’ rate for the same amount of water used is between $21 and $24 a month.
The commissioners, the mayor and the town manager expressed reservation about the idea, but acknowledged something had to be done to improve the chances of getting the money to replace a treatment plant that was built in 1969.
“You’ve got, for all intents and purposes, a 50-year-old water treatment plant, and it’s running on fumes,” Taylor said.
Some of the parts used at the plant can’t be replaced, he said.
“This is a tough decision for us,” Mayor Edward Henderson said.
Commissioner Caroline Sumpter asked Taylor if he was telling the commissioners they have to think about raising the rates.
“You have to do more than think about it, you have to plan on it,” Taylor said.
The current mentality of state and federal funding agencies is to push water providers to encourage their customers to conserve water, he said. Higher rates is one way to promote water conservation.
Engineers have submitted six options for either upgrading or replacing the plant, Town Manager David Ashburn told the commissioners.
In the meantime he will submit the preliminary engineer report to the USDA next week, Ashburn said. The USDA will review the report and, if approved, submit it to the state. If the state approves it the town can seek bids that will determine how much loan money is needed.
The town also will seek USDA grant money that can be used to offset the town’s loan debt, he said. The lower the debt, the lower any rate increase would be.
“It’s not going to be an easy decision,” Sumpter said. “But, I want water.”
The commissioners did approve transferring $224,000 from the town’s Capital Electric Reserve to pay for a truck for the fire department, an electric sign, electric meters and a video camera.
The combination ladder truck and pumper engine will cost $50,000, Ashburn said. It is a used vehicle being bought from a department inside Robeson County.
“This is a $700,000 piece of equipment,” Ashburn said.
Buying the vehicle will allow the town to improve its insurance rating, he said, which could save homeowners hundreds of dollars a year on their insurance bills.
The electric sign is digital and will be about 8.5 feet tall, he said. It will be placed at Town Hall where people can see messages about town activities. It will cost about $27,000.
The meters will cost about $119,000 and will complete the town’s Smart Meter program, Ashburn said.
The camera and related equipment cost about $3,000, Ashburn said. The camera will be mounted in one corner of the board’s chamber in Town Hall. Board meetings will be recorded and uploaded onto the town’s web site.
The money transfer and purchases were approved in a unanimous voice vote.
“We got a fire truck that’s going to lower our insurance rate. We got a camera that’s going to record our meetings. We got a full-color sign that’s going to smile at the people, and we got out electronic meters,” Mayor Henderson said. “That’s a good night’s work already.”
In other business, the commissioners;
— Heard a briefing from Lumber River Council of Governments Executive Director David Richardson about the service the organization offers to member municipalities, such as Red Springs. Richardson urged the commissioners to prepare for the 2020 census and work to make sure all residents are counted because each uncounted resident means the loss of about $1,600 a year in state and federal money.
— Appointed Carnetta McDougald, Mary McDonald and Bernard Murray to the Planning Board, and Frank Boyette and Cleophas McMillan to the Board of Adjustments.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]