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Council mulls water deal with county

 

ELIZABETH HEFFNER

Staff Writer

 

A solution to the Lincolnton and Lincoln County water dilemma may be on the horizon.

During their meeting Thursday night, Lincolnton City Council members discussed the most recent turn of events surrounding negotiations between the selling of city water to the county.

According to City Manager Jeff Emory, the county and city started negotiations regarding the sale and purchase of water well over a year ago.

“The first agreement that was presented to the city council went back and the city attorney actually drew up another set of contracts that were adopted and mailed back to the county,” Emory said. “The mayor then had some conversations with the county chair, (Alex) Patton. Our committee met again a few months ago to get the negotiations moving again…then, just recently, the county came back and made a counter-proposal. Basically, where we are right now…we had agreed to everything on the first copy that the city prepared, and we were recommending that we go to a contract at either 10 years at $1.15, 15 years at $1.20, or 20 years at $1.25 per 1,000 gallons.”

According to Emory, the county then came back and proposed a 10-year agreement at $1.05, ten cents less than what the city had proposed in their agreement. County commissioners also stated that they would want a share of the sewer revenue off of the sewer profits the city receives from the Lincoln County Industrial Park and the Timken line. Emory stated that he shared with County Manager Tracy Jackson that the city would not be interested in such an agreement, as the city could stand to lose money.

Emory said the county has also recommended a new tier with 911 services and animal control.

“Their recommendation was that for the first five years, they would charge us $75,000,” he said. “The next five (years), they’d charge us $150,000, and when we got to year 24-29, (they would charge us)  $300,000, and from years 29-34, $425,000. After discussing it with the mayor, I told the county manager that at this time, we would not agree on a term longer than 10 years, and that we would like to negotiate on a 10-year term.”

According to Emory, as of April 29, the county manager responded that commissioners would recommend upping the minimum purchase required for water from $111,000 per year to $160,000. On the revenue sharing with Timken sewer, the county proposed receiving 10 percent revenue on the sewer the first year, 20 percent the second year, 30 percent the third year and 40 percent of the revenue for the fourth through tenth year.

“As you can see, by upping the minimum purchasing amount, we do gain about $45,000 per year,” Emory explained. “So, for years one and two, we’re okay. But then we start losing money years three through ten.”

County officials also stated that they would want the city to pay $100,000 annually for a five-year term for 911 and Animal Control services.

Mayor John Gilleland then asked for further clarification regarding the proposed revenue sharing for the Timken and Industrial Park sewer lines.

“The county technically owns and maintains the lines, but keep in mind, the county came to us when the package plan at Timken went bad and they couldn’t serve Timken plant anymore, and we agreed to take the Timken sewer,” Emory said. “So they agreed to put in all the infrastructure. The county came to the city when Lincoln County Industrial Park was running out of sewer, and they had to get away from Maiden to expand the plant. So yeah, they did put in the infrastructure, and they did pay for it. But they had no other option in either one of those instances to have sewer. And I think now there position is, ‘Well, since we own and maintain all of that, we should get some of the revenue.’ But, what I would point back to is that the way it’s being treated now is what was in the original contract when we entered into this.”

“I would like the public to know this — we spent over $28 million on the infrastructure for that water treatment plant, and we’ve got $18 million tied up in that sewer,” City Council member Larry Mac Hovis said. “The county has not put one dime into the sewer and water plant…they’ve got nothing tied up in our infrastructure…if we keep this up, the county is going to be able to sell water cheaper than we can. It’s not right.”

City Council member Martin Eaddy also expressed his concerns with the county’s continuous negotiations.

“It seems to me that we have water that we want to sell, and the county needs to buy water,” he said. “Originally, we got together to work on that, and then the next thing I know, we were close to coming together on something and then, it seems like something was thrown in — ‘we will do this if the city will do the 911 and Animal Control,’ — and then we come close to another agreement, and the county says, ‘Well, we want the revenue shared on the sewer thing.’ It seems to me like if we could strip off all of these side tangents and deal with the water, get that put to bed — it’s just complicating things in my mind beyond comprehension. We’re got water to sell, they want water. Let’s come together.

“Every time we get close, (the county) changes the rules and conditions,” Eaddy continued. “I feel like they’re treating us like some giant piñata. The more they hit us, the harder they hit us, they think something good is going to come out. I really don’t like that that much. It seems to me that we should be looking at a mutually beneficial contract because our citizens are county citizens and pay county taxes.”

For city council member Devin Rhyne, the water negotiations are the least of the city’s worries.

“We need to do whatever we need to do to sell our water,” Rhyne said. “Right now, there are too many numbers out there. Our situation with 911 and Animal Services scares me to death. That’s my fear out of all of the contracts; how can we control that?”

After almost an hour of debate, Rhyne made the motion to request a joint meeting between the city council members, county commissioners and selected city and county officials to exclusively discuss the water contracts. City council members unanimously approved the motion. According to Emory, city officials will work to schedule the joint meeting within the next few weeks, after the city’s fiscal year 2015 budget workshop, which will be held May 7.

City Council members voted to unanimously approve applicant Robert Lee Haynes Jr.’s request for a conditional use rezoning of 0.83 acres of land from Residential-25 to Conditional Use Neighborhood Business. Haynes plans to construct a 2400 square foot office/storage building on the property. The subject property is made up of two parcels of land located at the southwest corner of Huss Street and Skyway Lane.

Water Treatment Plant Operator Joe Picard was honored by Gilleland and city council members for his 18 years of service to Lincolnton. Picard will begin his retirement on June 1.

“We appreciate the job you’ve done and all your service,” Gilleland said.

“Without water, the city can’t run,” Picard responded. “We try to do the best we can.”

Equipment Services Mechanic Johnny Sain was also recognized by council members on his upcoming retirement. Over the past 14 years, Sain has served the city, working through storm events and natural disasters.

City Parks and Recreation Director Ritchie Haynes gave a presentation to council members, outlining some of the functions the department is responsible for as well as their participation statistics for the 2012-2013 Fiscal Year.

“This was a tough year, especially with the flood last July,” Haynes stated.

Despite some of the challenges presented by inclement weather, he stated the department had a very successful year. A total of 932 youth participated in the sports offered throughout the year, which includes Fall Soccer, Flag Football and Spring Soccer. Open gym participation has also increased over the past few years, with 13,118 documented participants.

“In 2007, there were 200 kids in youth programs, and now, we have over 1,100 youth participants,” Haynes said.

The city department currently maintains three parks, a trail and greenway, four baseball and softball fields and two soccer fields, totaling to 79.37 acres maintained.

“We are not an 8 a.m.-5 p.m. department,” Haynes said. “We work seven days a week, and we work evenings and weekends.”

Eaddy commended the Haynes and the department members on their upkeep of the facilities.

“The facilities always look great, especially given the amount of use,” he said.

Downtown Development Association member Cathy Davis asked council members to consider a contract between the City and DDA regarding the 2014 Lovable Lincolnton Wine & Art Fest. This year, the festival is scheduled for October 11, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The event would take place in the first and second blocks of East Main Street.

Davis explained that those interested in attending would pay $10 in advance for the wine tasting, which would consist of half- and one-ounce samples. After listening to Davis’ proposal, the motion to approve the contract was unanimously approved.

Council members also considered amended the recently approved contract for the Alive After Five series. According to Davis, the Downtown Development Association is requesting to switch the location of the stage from the west side to the east side of the court square in order to prevent the musical talent from performing in the direct sunlight. Davis added that this year’s entertainment would be exclusively beach bands. A proposal was also made to add a car show during each Alive After Five concert in the 200 block of East Main St. After some discussion, city council members unanimously approved the proposed amendment.

 

 

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