Columbus to consolidate water districts

By DEUCE NIVEN

     Columbus County’s five rural water districts will soon become one, county commissioners agreed Monday.
     It’s a move chairman Amon McKenzie has sought for years, one that will remove property tax levies that now keep Districts 2 and 3 financially afloat, county finance officer Bobbie Faircloth told commissioners.
    Voters approved the county’s first water district in 1991, with four more added piecemeal over the next decade. All of them have struggled financially in their early years, none so deeply as Districts 2 and 3, which have been supported by tax levies since 2004.
    Some commissioners, including McKenzie, have been looking for a way to consolidate the districts since those tax levies were imposed. That was impossible, Faircloth said, until the debts incurred to build each of those systems was satisfied.
    Lower interest rates for bonds today now makes the consolidation possible, Faircloth said. Savings to the county, over time, should range from $3.2 to $4 million, depending on the interest rate the county ultimately secures. Most of those savings will come as bonded debts are paid off up to 15 years early, with the new bonds issued for 25 years, Faircloth said.
    Savings early will be about $40,000 on annual bond payments, Faircloth said.
    An exception will be for Water District 4, where the interest rate on its outstanding bonded debt is lower than what is available now.
    Commissioners agreed take bids from banks for new bonds to pay off all of the water districts debts except that in District 4, $16.7 million. They also agreed to take about $4.1 million from the county’s $16 million fund balance to pay off the District 4, with the new, consolidated water district to repay the county over time.
     “That’s a good business decision,” County Manager Bill Clark said. “You will get a higher interest rate from the water districts than you are getting now.”

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