03/07/07 — Officials discuss sewer bill debt

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Officials discuss sewer bill debt

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 7, 2007 1:55 PM

EUREKA -- Eureka Town Board member Myrtie Sauls said Tuesday night she would shut off the town's sewer connection to Fremont if she could find the valve.

The little northern Wayne County town has found itself in a dilemma regarding its sewer system. It owes the town of Fremont $156,000 for treating its sewage and has few options since the state has told the board it cannot simply quit the sewer business.

But that is of little comfort to Mrs. Sauls and the rest of the town board. Shutting the system down might be illegal, she said, but town officials have found themselves between a rock and a hard place with regard to the problem.

"Then if the state fines you, you still don't have any money," Mrs. Sauls said.

Her comments came after the board's regular meeting. Discussions of what to do about the sewer problem surfaces at almost every Eureka meeting.

The town is broke, Mrs. Sauls said, and needs to find a way to get out of the hole it has found itself in. With only 117 customers, Eureka simply cannot generate the revenue through sewer bills to keep up with the cost of operating its system. Last year, town officials even considered disbanding the town to get out of the situation, but state officials said it wasn't that simple.

In the past, Eureka treated its sewage through a lagoon system, much like hog farmers use. But officials decided in the late 1990s to install a line to hook onto the Fremont system. Fremont sends its sewer to Goldsboro for treatment. Fremont also is in the hole. It owes Goldsboro more than $200,000 in sewer bill debt.

As Eureka has fallen further and further behind in its sewer burden, it has looked for other ways to treat its sewage. Currently, town officials are looking for a field on which it could possibly spray its wastewater on a temporary basis.

Eureka Mayor Steve Howell said Fremont is not in as bad shape as Eureka. Fremont has a lot more customers paying monthly bills, he pointed out.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina Local Government Commission has sent a letter to Eureka asking town officials what they plan to do about their "serious financial and operational problems."

"This (letter) is a fine example that they have no concept of what we're dealing with," Howell said Tuesday. "They're used to having money and having budgets. ... We don't have enough money for a budget. If we had a fund to rob, we'd have done it by now."

The operational problems referred to in the letter are leaks in some of Eureka's sewer lines. The leaks at some of the town's manholes are so severe the town commissioners refer to them as "gushers" and worry every time it looks like it may rain.

Eureka board members are hoping to fix some of the leaks soon. But the bills are still mounting, and they are planning to meet with officials from Fremont, Goldsboro and the Local Government Commission to seek a solution.