Some residents upset over sewer bills

Published 12:34 pm Friday, January 19, 2024

By Abigail Roberts

Correspondent

STANFORD – A group of residents who live on the west side of the county are not happy with what they are being charged for sewer service, whether they are using it or not, and they attended the recent Lincoln County Fiscal Court meeting to let magistrates know their concerns.

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The Fiscal Court met Jan. 9 for its regular monthly meeting, during which they heard from a group of people who live in the Hustonville and Moreland area.

The sewer project involved construction of a sanitary sewage collection and conveyance system to serve 535 residential customers and 50 commercial customers on the west side of Lincoln County that had no sanitary sewer system.

Prior to the sewer system, sewage was disposed of through septic tanks and straight pipes, which resulted in discharges of raw sewage into waterways. The project also allowed students and staff at Hustonville Elementary to return to a more cost-effective cafeteria system rather than using styrofoam trays with plastic utensils every day for meals.

The new sewer system, which was paid for through grants and loans, aimed to clean up the Hanging Fork Creek watershed, which had high levels of contaminants in the water supply.

While those who attended the Jan. 9 Fiscal Court meeting all agreed the project was positive and needed, and they don’t mind paying a flat rate fee, they do not believe they should be charged a usage fee for a sewer system they are not using.

“It’s not right to pay for a service that you’re not receiving,” said Bobby Atwood. “A flat rate would be a different thing but if you’re not using the sewer, and you’re paying a water and sewer bill, I think it’s unfair for Lincoln County. I really think somebody needs to check on what people can afford to get on (the sewer) and what people can’t afford to get on. Basically, that’s why I’m here, to be a concerned citizen of Lincoln County looking to you all and myself and the people around us to make a wonderful place to live…”

Phillip Hafley asked magistrates about financial details from the sewer project, including what people are being charged and how many people are hooked onto the sewer versus those who are not.

The group said they wanted a breakdown of how and how much people are being charged and where that money is going.

Judge-Executive Woods Adams said the Lincoln County Sanitation District would have more answers as far as financials and details about the sewer project.

“I think everybody is in agreement with the flat sewer rate,” one attendee said. “If it’s there and you can hook up…it’s a benefit to the homeowner. But when they’re charging extra money for water usage, that’s kind of up in the air for everybody. We use water other than what goes back through that line that we’re having to pay for twice. We’re paying the water bill and we’re paying the sewer bill that’s not even going back down that line.”

The residents raised concerns for those on fixed income who cannot afford high sewer bills.

Magistrate Joseph Stanley said growing pains are expected with such a large sewer project but the bills are a lot higher than what people were led to believe.

“When we talked about this…then we were talking about the bill was going to be maybe $30 to $45 a month and that’s what we were led to believe, now it’s almost twice that and everybody is complaining. It’s really hurting some people. We need to come up with some kind of agreement on how everybody can live.”

Magistrate David Faulkner said he personally does not believe anyone should have to pay for a service they are not using.

“Now, what we can do about something like that, with the set up as it is, I don’t know. I don’t have the answer,” Faulkner said.

Faulkner said he agrees with a flat rate or “access” fee if you have access to the sewer but choose not to use it, but not a usage fee.

“The only thing I know that we can do for sure as a court is try to meet with the Sanitation District, talk to people, communication…a lot of problems can be solved just by talking to people,” Faulkner said. “I think we need to talk to people and find out what it is that’s going on.”

Magistrate Bobby King asked if the sewer bills are fluctuating each month.

One attendee said residents are charged a flat rate of $34 a month, and then an additional $7 for every 1,000 gallons of water.

“So let’s say you’re using 3,000 gallons, that’s probably average, your water bill is going to be roughly $35 and your sewer bill is going to be $70. So you’re going to go from a $35 bill to $100,” one attendee said.

Another attendee said his most recent water bill was $32 and his sewer bill was $64.

“And I ain’t even hooked up,” he said.

Another said his bill was $277 and all he does is flush a commode.

“I don’t even drink the water,” he said.

The sewer is a great thing for the community, the group agreed, but they want to know why the bills are so high, especially for those who are not using the service.

“I think we’ll find out more answers at the Sanitation Board meeting,” Adams said.

The Lincoln County Fiscal Court and the Sanitation District are scheduled to hold a joint meeting on Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. at the Wellness Center at Veterans Park.

In other business, the fiscal court:

• approved the 2024 Sheriff’s budget and deputy salary maximum; Sheriff Shawn Hines said the new fee pooling system is going great.

• approved the Lincoln County Clerk’s 2024 budget and deputy salary maximum. Clerk Nancy Jackson said the budget was basically the same as last year. Currently, the Clerk’s Office has three full-time employees and one part-time employee. Magistrates authorized the county to pay the first payroll for the Clerk’s Office since they have not had revenues due to being closed by the state for software upgrades.

• approved a McKinney Water CDGB resolution and subrecipient agreement for the McKinney Water District to construct a new water tower and upgrade infrastructure. The project is about $4 million, with about $2 million in grant money altogether. $1 million of grant money will pass through the Fiscal Court. Luther Galloway said this is a much needed project that will be the first upgrade to the system since 1965.

• Heard an update from Garlan Vanhook on the Lincoln County Courthouse renovation project. Vanhook said there were three change orders for work that was not anticipated including wider excavation, depth of concrete and new piping needed for the second floor bathroom. Vanhook said yard work and electric work is on hold due to weather and the staff toilet room is done.

• Heard an annual and monthly report from LCSO Chief Deputy Brandon Curlis. Curlis said during the month of Dec. the sheriff’s office received 816 calls, opened 21 cases, and responded to four overdoses.

During 2023, the sheriff’s office answered a total of 11,653 calls for service, opened 505 cases, and responded to 36 overdoses.

• Lincoln County Attorney Daryl Day is working on a deed for the old Kings Mountain property that will now revert back to the school board as it is no longer being used for a public purpose.

• Lincoln County Library Director Jamie Helle said the library is currently starting work on its strategic community plan, which addresses how to improve the library over the next few years. Helle welcomed input from magistrates and community members.

• Heard an update from Lincoln County Historical Society President Jane Vanhook who said the William Whitley House Christmas event was well-attended. Vanhook said many people have moved to Lincoln County from states across the U.S. and they attended the event. Vanhook said they had the windows at the Presbyterian Meeting House looked at and will have a proposal for repair on those soon.

• magistrates voted to go into executive session to discuss pending litigation.