12/02/13 — District chief surprised by Keen comments

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District chief surprised by Keen comments

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 2, 2013 1:46 PM

Fork Township Sanitary District Board Chairman Henry Braswell said he was surprised and disappointed at comments by Wayne County Commissioner Steve Keen that the districts could stifle economic development.

Braswell said the comments are particularly disconcerting in light of the new Walmart and other development near the U.S.70-N.C. 111 intersection made possible by the district's decision to provide sewer service.

Asked if he thought the development would have happened without those services, Braswell said, "absolutely not."

"Personally I was very disappointed that Mr. Keen would even make such a statement knowing what Fork Township has done and is doing for the water system and sewer system in this area," he said. "Now, there is a possibility that a private enterprise may have come in and elected to put in the sewer. That we do not know.

"If that had happened I am sure there would have been a substantial (higher) difference in what is being charged now and what would have been charged."

Braswell said Keen, a developer who has property on U.S. 70 near the district's water and sewer lines, had not spoken to him about the issue.

Braswell said he had no idea why commissioners have developed such an interest in the districts, calling it a "total surprise" when he read about it in the News-Argus.

Commissioners in February were unsuccessful in their efforts to secure legislative approval to allow them to move water district lines.

"Trying to move the (district) lines or change the lines in Wayne County, to me, it is just not a feasible for that to happen," Braswell said.

The legislation that created the districts includes a procedure whereby areas can petition to become part of a district, he said.

"Therefore they had a right to vote (to be annexed)," Braswell said. "But at the same they would be told that they are subjecting themselves to the possibility of a tax by being incorporated into our district if that ever occurred."

The issue was recast in October as a matter of fairness to voters in the county. Part of an update on the then-pending Nov. 5 election focused on the number of people who receive water district services, but who live outside the districts.

People who live outside the district cannot serve on a district's governing board or vote in a district election.

Also in October, commissioners voted for the second time this year to ask state lawmakers to allow the majority of the board to alter a district's lines by approving a resolution.

In November, the issue was cast in yet another light -- economic development.

Keen's most recent comments followed a Nov. 5 presentation by Wayne County Planning Director Connie Price concerning the county's comprehensive land use plan. Price spoke about getting water and sewer service to the new U.S. 70 Bypass interchanges that fall within water districts and city of Goldsboro limits.

Keen said, as a commissioner, he is not trying to take over the sanitary districts and that the issue he was talking about was completely different than the voting issue.

The districts are very vital to economic growth, and as the county looks at development, it is going to have to deal with the governance of the districts, he said.

"The sanitary district were a great thing put together about 20 or 25 years ago," Keen said. "But as we look at the governance, how is the governance going to get on the same page with what we are doing because of fees, because of impact fees, tap-on fees. Are they going to stifle the growth with their fees and impact fees? Or are they going to be part of our plan?"

Keen said he was excited about a planned meeting with the sanitary district boards so that the boards can tell commissioners about their plans and how their fees are laid out.

Braswell said he had yet to be told of any meeting.

Keen did not identify a specific water district when he mentioned the impact fee.

However, Braswell said that Fork is the only district he is aware of that has impact fees for sewer services. There is not one for water, he said.

A bond vote by residents to borrow the money built the water system, he said. The repayment of the bonds is built into the rate structure for water customers.

Customers living outside the district pay the same rates as those living inside the district, he said.

There was no bond vote for the sewer. That was a decision made by the district board, Braswell said.

"The system could have been scaled down just to serve Walmart and the intersection," he said. "However, the board decided to build in surplus capacity so that they could grow the sewer service, thinking it would be beneficial to the Rosewood community. We thought that was reasonable.

"We felt like we were better able to handle (sewer service) because we were in the water business. Also, we could handle it for the benefit of people in Fork Township."

The district's initial venture into the sewer business was several years ago when the county Board of Education decided it no longer wanted to be responsible for the line that serviced the Rosewood schools.

"There is nobody on that line, but we look after the schools," Braswell said. "But now we can put people on that line, but at this point there has not been anymore development on this line. We look after it and maintain it because it is in Fork Township."

Some of the properties being served by the sanitary district have been spot annexed by Goldsboro.

Fork fronted $833,004.12 in water system revenues for the $2.1 million sewer project. Walmart provided $558,674, the Rural Center, $500,000 and HWB of North Carolina, $202,048.

The $2.1 million included $339,000 to purchase sewer capacity from Goldsboro.

The district's sewer impact fee of $16 per gallon per day for customers outside the city limits is based on usage figures provided by the state. Customers inside the city pay an impact fee of $12.50 per gallon per day.

The fee was set by the district board to cover the cost of the service and to repay the $833,004.12, Braswell said. The board also felt the fee should be high enough to allow it to earn a small return on the money the district had invested, he said.

 If the board had set the fee lower, the water service would in effect be subsidizing the sewer service, Braswell said.

The sewer serves Walmart, Rosewood Baptist Church, O'Reilly Auto Parts, the strip shopping center at Walmart, Murphy's, the Pantry, Johnston Ambulance Service, Rosewood Elementary, Middle and High schools, the new Goshen Medical Center, the Stackhouse property and the medical office of Dr. Jimenez.

The gravity feed line extends from just past O'Reilly eastward to just past Adair Drive, part of Keen's development.

The force main runs Johnston Ambulance Service to O'Berry Center Road to a lift station at to Old Smithfield Road.