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Wednesday, 06 November 2013 00:00

Leaders reluctant to gamble on sewer line expansion

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Jackson County commissioners questioned the wisdom of a last-ditch effort to find more customers for the Whittier sewer system at a county meeting Monday.

Commissioner also signaled reluctance to put up county money for a plan they saw as less than ideal. 

 

“My math isn’t that great, but I come with negative numbers no matter how I look at it,” Commission Chairman Jack Debnam said.

The rural Whittier sewer system has only 40 customers — about 200 short of what it needs to break even. It is losing more than $100,000 a year.

So the operators of the sewer system want to extend the sewer line, bringing it within reach of more homes, which in turn would tap on — maybe.

Houses are few and far between in Whittier, however, so the best they could come up with was extending the line to the doorstep of a trailer park with 20 mobile homes. The trailer park owner has agreed to hook on if the line is brought his way.

The N.C. Rural Center has awarded a $305,000 grant for the project, covering 90 percent of the cost. It now needs a $35,000 local match to make it happen.

“Someone is going to have to come up with the 10 percent match,” Wooten said.

But commissioners didn’t seem to eager for that someone to be them.

“I don’t see where this particular project is cost effective at all,” Debnam said.

The 20 additional customers would only generate $5,000 a year in revenue. Meanwhile, the sewer system is still losing $100,000 a year.

 “It isn’t going to do anything,” Debnam said.

“It will reduce the deficit by $5,000 a year,” Wooten countered.

Commissioner Doug Cody said it was a fallacy to think an additional 20 customers would help matters much. 

“This one thing will make will not help our bottom line. This deficit this goes on forever,” Cody said.

Cody said the line extension is just more of the same — namely running sewer lines through sparsely populated areas without enough customers to support it.

“You don’t put a sewer system over here where nobody lives,” Cody said. “There is no assurance anyone would ever connect to this line.”

Wooten again countered that there is actually a benefit from the line extension, even if it doesn’t help the financial picture much. The trailer park’s septic system is on the verge of failure.

“It is in bad shape,” Wooten said. “There is plenty of room for repair for those 20 failing systems.”

Wooten pointed out the sewer line extension would pass near several other properties as well, which may generate customers in the future, Wooten said.

“There is potential there for quite a bit of development on one side of the road,” Wooten said.

But Debnam questioned that assumption as well.

“I know the terrain through there, and there aren’t many properties that would be able to hook on,” Debnam replied.

Wooten then said the county must decide one way or another in a hurry, however, or the grant will be lost.

Commissioners said they would revisit the subject at their next meeting in two weeks, requesting additional information to help with a decision.

It is unclear why the Whittier Sanitary District won’t pitch in. It has $200,000 in reserves, but that money is used to offset annual operating losses and once it runs out, it could not longer afford to keep the sewer plant running.

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