04/22/10 — Duplin considers assessing unpaid water bills onto taxes

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Duplin considers assessing unpaid water bills onto taxes

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on April 22, 2010 1:46 PM

ALBERTSON -- Duplin County water customers who do not pay their bills even after their water service is shut off could face wage garnishment or have a lien placed against their property.

The Duplin County Board of Commissioners approved using the more serious methods of collecting past-due amounts on water accounts to recoup lost revenue. The measure was approved 4-2 this week.

The garnishment or property lien will only be possible in the event that a customer's water service has already been stopped due to non-payment and the account has remained unpaid for 90 days, county Utilities Director Donna Brown said.

Commissioners Zettie Williams and David Fussell voted against the motion. They both sought to hold a public hearing on the issue before bringing it to vote.

The commissioners also discussed the possibility of touring one of the hospitals owned by the University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, the only agency that has shown interest in leasing Duplin General Hospital. The health care company, which currently manages the facility, submitted the only bid showing interest in leasing the hospital although the county sent out requests for proposal to 16 health care entities.

The company proposes to lease the hospital from the county for a period of 25 years and will commit to spending money on improving Duplin General.

Commissioner David Fussell and Commission Chairman Cary Turner hinted at what the potential lease might have in store for the county hospital.

"Their plans are to really upgrade our hospital," Fussell said.

The commissioners are not ready to make any announcements about what the plan might involve, but Turner suggested he is pleased with what he has seen so far.

"We're limited to what we can say, but it will be a good thing for Duplin County," Turner said.

In other action, the commissioners also voted 5-1 in favor of allowing individuals renting the Duplin County Event Center to apply for permits to serve liquor while using the facility.

Turner said he voted against the county itself obtaining the permit at a previous meeting, but that allowing people to apply for a permit for their own use while renting the facility was a different matter.

When commissioners returned from a closed session at the end of the meeting, Ms. Williams and Commissioner Frances Parks brought a motion for the commissioners to apply for the county license, but the vote did not pass.

The county stood to lose three events scheduled for the center that would have been canceled if the organizers could not serve alcohol at the functions, County Man-ager Mike Aldridge said.

Additionally, the commissioners also approved a motion to adjust a fire district line between the Oak Wolfe and Faison fire departments. Homeowners in the area approached the board seeking the change because their home insurance rates went up because of the previous arrangement of the district lines.

Emergency services director Brian Pearce investigated the possibility and told commissioners the change will not affect anyone who is currently paying fire tax in the Oak Wolfe district. The fire tax district boundaries are not the same as the fire department response boundaries, and no one who is not already paying the fire tax will have to pay it after the adjustment.

Pearce said he contacted both fire departments, and the chiefs of Oak Wolfe and Faison departments accepted the change.

Pearce and the commissioners also kicked off a campaign supporting a quarter-cent sales tax increase. The money raised by the increase in sales tax would go toward supporting Duplin County's volunteer fire departments. The county does not currently have any paid firefighters.

Duplin County voters will get to cast their ballot on the issue on May 4.