Rhodhiss gets money for water, sewer repairs

Jul. 18, 2014 @ 06:53 AM

Rhodhiss town officials received the great news they have been hoping for several months to get.

Rhodhiss received both Community Development Block Grants it applied for, totaling at $3 million, to help pay for $1.5 million in repairs to the town's water system and $1.6 million in repairs to the sewer system, said Town Manager Barbara Harmon.

They are repairs that the small town otherwise might not be able to afford to make but are vitally needed to make the systems affordable.

The happy news -- Harmon said her eyes welled up with tears of joy upon hearing it -- came Thursday, Harmon's next-to-last day as town manager after seven years in the position.

“It’s just the perfect going-away gift knowing the town is going to benefit from such things,” Harmon said. “We’re just so happy.”

For the 2014-15 fiscal year, the Rhodhiss board of commissioners approved a 30 percent water and sewer rate increase to try to keep up with the town’s high water and sewer bills. The town buys its water from Granite Falls, Icard and Burke County, and it pays Burke County to treat its sewage. But due to poor infrastructure, the town's water lines leak, so the town pays for more water than residents use, and excess ground water seeps into the sewer lines, which means the town is paying for more than residents' sewage to be treated.

All of that means that what residents pay the town on their water and sewer bills has been much less than what the town is charged -- last fiscal year, the rates and fees paid by town residents came to about $230,000 a year, more than $100,000 short of the town's costs -- so the town has been using money from savings to cover the difference. If that continues, Harmon said, the reserve fund would not last more than a few more years.

Harmon said one of the reasons the town received both grants was because Mayor Rick Justice and Commissioner Joe Kirby went door-to-door with surveys to documented the income and living situations of Rhodhiss residents. Each grant application gets a score in a number of categories, including economic need, poverty level, severity of need and water loss. The total scores determine the priority of the applications.

“The town is really going to benefit, and that’s what we worked for,” Harmon said.