By DEUCE NIVEN
Water and sewer fees for residential customers in Tabor City are going up effective May 1, action the Town Council was told Tuesday could prove pivotal in landing more than $11.4 million in grants to repair deficiencies in aging sewer lines and the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP).
Council also approved applications for those projects. Sewer line and pump station improvements total $6.375 million, work at the WWTP adding another $5.089 million, an $11.46 million total that if funded would require no local matching funds, Town Manager Al Leonard and consultant Bill Lester with LKC Engineering said.
What it will cost
Both water and sewer rate increases were approved by council.
Water, currently with an $8 minimum monthly fee plus $1.85 for every 1,000 gallons used, will rise to a $12 minimum plus $3 per 1,000 gallons.
Sewer rates were increased in 2020 as the town sought, and received more than $3 million in grants to improve the WWTP. A smaller increase was approved Tuesday, the sewer rate increased from a $24.60 minimum and $5.05 per 1,000 gallons to $26.60 and $5.10 per 1,000 gallons.
“Our average customer uses about 2,000 gallons per month,” Leonard said. “Their monthly charges would be going from $46.40 to $54.80 per month.”
That’s just more than $8 per month.
Leonard called the opportunity to win pure grants, with no local tax dollars, at the level currently afforded “historic,” with funding through the pandemic prompted American Rescue Plan, either directly or indirectly, giving state government more money for infrastructure projects than at any time in decades.
Lester said the available funding was more than he had seen in his 33 year career.
A Capital Improvement Plan project authorized by council in 2019 identified more than $14 million in needed improvements in the town’s water and sewer systems, both originally built in the 1930s, Lester said.
That plan also identified a weakness in the town’s grant applications. Put simply, Leonard said, the state won’t award grants to local government it deems are not doing enough to be self-sufficient, specifically not charging enough for water and sewer services.
Both grant applications approved by council Tuesday award points based on what customers pay for water and sewer service combined, per month, based on 5,000 gallons, Leonard said.
Points range from four to ten, $79 per month combined earning the lower amount, $129 per month the maximum.
Tabor City’s current charge totals $67.10.
“I’m not recommending that we double our rates,” Leonard said. “I recommend that we get the four points with $79.”
Leonard and Lester both said they hope other strengths in the WWTP and sewer system improvement grant applications will be enough to win.
Grant awards will be made by the state’s Division of Environmental Quality in May, with projects not funded then automatically to be considered for a second round of funding in September.
Lester, whose firm is preparing the sewer line and pump station application, said he believes the application for the WWTP will be stronger, and more likely to win, especially with the new rates in place.
Councilman Lamont Grate, who made the motion for the new rates, said it was the best option available.
“We never want to put a burden on our citizens,” Grate said. “This is a burden that’s not going away. I’d rather do something now that’s minimal than wait and have to do something later that’s not minimal.”
Council’s vote was unanimous.
Look for more on this story in today’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.